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Chapter 26: transferred to the West; battle of Wauhatchie

I continued with the Army of the Potomac till General Meade had not only recrossed the Potomac and marched back southward, following up, by the inside lines, the retreat of the Confederates, but till Meade had crossed the Rappahannock also, established his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Virginia, and put his forces into good positions for watching every point of the compass. The Eleventh Corps, which I then commanded, spread itself out north of the Rappahannock, in fan-shaped order, facing the rear, with its center near Catlett's, a station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. My tents were pitched on Mr. Catlett's farm; and we were suffered to remain so long in one place that we became quite domesticated. By the letters which I have preserved I recall the fact that the officers of my staff and myself had much sympathy and friendship with Mr. Catlett's family. They remained at home in a neighborhood quite overrun by both armies and one already very destitute of comforts and quite barren of vegetation. Writing from this camp to my child, I said: “Little Lottie Catlett, who looks something like yourself, gave me a good, hearty welcome when I returned, and showed me her nice, new doll.... One time she understood somebody to say that I had been killed, and she cried very heartily.” The monotony of camp life had many reliefs this hot season. [449] At one time a German chaplain preached, and the Thirty-third Massachusetts band came to the service and played the hymns. The band remained at Catlett's over Monday, and we all had a delightful musical treat. At another time, Saturday, September 4, 1863, returning from Manassas Junction, where I had been to review troops, I found Meade, Humphreys, and Pleasonton at my headquarters.

Meade took dinner with me under our fly; he admired the ability of our cook in making strange devices upon an admirable cake. Our German cook's ability exceeded anything found in cities.

At another time, in the same month, my staff rode with me to the village of Greenwich, where I had one regiment. The principal citizen was Mr. Green. He appeared heartily glad to see us. His premises afforded an exception to the prevailing desolation. They were, indeed, in fine condition. He extended to us cordial and abundant hospitality. With fervor and simplicity he asked God's blessing. His neighbors spoke of his charities. His character much impressed me. He was an Englishman, and “British property” was inscribed in plain letters on his gate posts. There were large stacks of good hay untouched, and goodsized beehives full of honey I War had spared nobody else in that region.

At that time, too, as to many others around me, there came news of illness at home.

While we were in the midst of such surroundings and circumstances, which were making up the woof and web of our daily life, with little apparent prospect of change, on September 24th, without previous intimation, the following orders suddenly made their appearance at my headquarters: [450]

The commanding general directs that you have your command (Eleventh Corps) in readiness to proceed to Washington to-morrow morning by railroad.

You will at once notify Mr. J. H. Devereux, superintendent of the railroad, Alexandria, at what points you desire to have the trains take up your troops, and the number at each place.

Your command must have five days cooked rations. You will not wait to be relieved by other troops, but proceed to Washington the moment the trains are ready to take your command. Please acknowledge.

By command of Major General Meade S. Williams, Asst. Adj't Gen.

General Slocum, commanding the Twelfth Corps, had received substantially the same orders. These two corps were placed upon trains of cars and put under the command of General Joseph Hooker, for it had been resolved to recall General Hooker from his retirement to which General Halleck's influence had consigned him the preceding June 28th. These two corps were intended as reinforcements to the Army of the Cumberland at that time still under General Rosecrans.

The battle of Chickamauga had been fought, ending September 21, 1863. The place of this hardly contested field was in Tennessee, east of Lookout Mountain, and several miles south of Chattanooga. It had resulted, notwithstanding our heavy losses and partial defeats, in a substantial success; for Rosecrans had gained that strong place of arms, Chattanooga, and thus firmly seized the left bank of the Tennessee. By the date of our orders, September 24th, he had renidered his position stronger by his forts and intrenchments. There was little present danger of losing this [451] important advantage by assault or by battle; but Bragg had seized the mountains which hemmed in Chattanooga, the range above (that is, Missionary Ridge) and the ranges below (Lookout and Raccoon), and by his cannon and his outposts so controlled the Tennessee River above and below, that there should be no communication with Chattanooga by the usual routes on the same side with the town.

Rosecrans's wagons with supplies came up the convex road on the opposite bank. When they used the river road there, the route was bad enough, being over forty miles in length from the Nashville & Bridgeport Railroad to the pontoon bridge which led into Chattanooga. Soon even this rugged way was shut up by the boldness of the enemy's sharpshooters posted on the south bank of the river and firing across the narrower stretches.

After a longer and safer road had been selected, the supply trains were “raided upon” by guerrilla bands and by smaller bodies of the enemy's cavalry, which at the time ranged wildly through that portion of Tennessee. Soon the question of supplies became a serious one, so it was necessary either to strengthen Rosecrans's hands, so that he could clear himself from a partial siege, or withdraw his army and so lose advantage of a position which had been secured at a costly sacrifice.

It was, therefore, determined to detach us from Meade and make a transfer to Rosecrans. The two corps (the Eleventh and Twelfth) quickly started up from their scattered camps in regiments, loaded up their tents and luggage, and marched to the nearest railway station. We, fortunately for our subsequent comfort, were to leave our army wagons behind as [452] soon as they had been unloaded at the cars. Our artillery and horses went with us. Instead of having a single long train, Mr. Devereux furnished us with several short ones. As soon as the first one was loaded to its full with our material, animals, and men, it moved off, to be followed by the second, filled in like manner. As several stations were used at the same time, it did not take long, with our multitude of helpers, to embark everything which was allowed.

At first our destination was a secret to everybody. By Halleck's instructions I went to Washington and reported to Hooker. I found him at Willard's Hotel. He at once informed me that my corps and Slocum's were to move by rail to the west and join Rosecrans as soon as it could be done. I remember, years afterwards, just after the completion of the Northern Pacific, I waited a day and a night for a train at the junction of the Utah Northern with that railroad. Mr. Henry Villard, the president of the road, and his guests from Europe and from the Eastern States were returning from the occasion of the driving of the “golden spike.” It was making a trial trip. Train after train whizzed past my station, keeping regular intervals apart. These had the road all to themselves. They reminded me forcibly of our manner of moving troops during the war. However, we never went as Villard did, at forty or fifty miles an hour. We did well to average fifteen.

After an interview with my commanders I paid a visit to the President. It was during that visit that Mr. .Lincoln pulled down his map from the wall and, putting his finger on Cumberland Gap, asked: “General, can't you go through here and seize Knoxvillet” Speaking of the mountaineers of that region he dedared: [453] “They are loyal there, they are loyal” Then he gave me his mounted map, better for campaigning, and took my unmounted one, saying: “Yours will do for me.” In answer to the President's question I replied: “We must work in with Grant's plans, as he has three armies, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and the Ohio.” And that is what Mr. Lincoln actually did.

With my headquarters I took the rearmost train. Many men mounted, from choice, on the tops of the freight cars. It gave them better air to do so, but it was dangerous at the bridges and in passing through the tunnels. A few men were swept off and hurt. When times of excitement, like the present, came on, some of our men developed an extraordinary desire for whisky, and citizens were never wanting who would be prepared, at any station, to press a bottle into their pockets. This increased the danger to life. After several fatal falls were reported, I succeeded in effecting, by telegraph, an arrangement with the town authorities where we were to stop, even for a few minutes, so that the liquor shops were closed during the passage of the trains. When we caught an eager vender, selling bottles secretly in spite of all precautions, we found it a good policy to give him a free ride for some distance, and then permit him to walk back.

All the way along through Indiana and Ohio we received an enthusiastic welcome. Multitudes-men, women, and children-filled the streets of the towns as we passed and gave us refreshments and hearty words and other demonstrations of their appreciation. At Xenia, for example, little girls, gayly attired, came in flocks and handed up bouquets of flowers to the soldiers; the children and the ladies, too, were the bearers of little housekeeper bags, needlebooks, and bright [454] flags, each bringing some small thing for use. Nothing ever inspirited our men more. True, these lovely faces and these demonstrations were reminders of home; but with our soldiers generally such reminders did not depress and cause desertion, but awakened them to fresh energy and exertion to struggle on, and to preserve to their children an unbroken heritage.

Among our people, anywhere from Maine to California, during the great war, when the Nation's life was the issue, we encountered every variety of opinion. There were those who were able to turn everything into money, and who were, at the same time, always unfriendly to President Lincoln and his administration. There were others, not worse, but more blatant in their opposition. We heard from these in every crowd; they called us cutthroats, Lincoln hirelings, nigger savers, or by some other characteristic epithets. Our loyal soldiers denominated them “copperheads,” and when there was opportunity for a more forceful rejoinder it was quick to come.

During this trip, however, the loyal feeling, sympathy, and kind words prevailed. At Dayton, Ohio, all discordant voices were drowned quickly by the vast multitudes who came together and shouted their approval. At last, these warm greetings, mingled with tears from those who were mourning for losses already suffered; these presentations of flowers and useful articles; these upturned faces and extended hands were all passed by. We came again to the Ohio, opposite Louisville, Ky.

For some reason, perhaps to save the soldiers from several hours of hard work, our quartermasters and railroad officials decided to move the horses, artillery, the camp and garrison equipage, and all other luggage [455] entirely independent of the help of the soldiers or their officers. Everything was then taken over the river in small transports and put upon freight cars which were in waiting. The provision was a mistake. It took much longer to do the work, and too often this moving was as destructive as fire. Such confusion as resulted I will not undertake to describe. Tents, bedding, clothing, mess kits belonging to one regiment or battery were thrown together or badly mixed with those of another. There was little separation even between the corps, division, and brigade property; so that one can imagine the difficulty of unraveling this wretched entanglement when we reached our journey's end.

It taught every officer who was on those trains to see to it in the future that each organization kept the management of its own material to itself. Let the helpers help, but not control, particularly in such hurried transfers.

On October 1, 1863, I wrote a letter from the Galt House. My infantry was then ahead, and part of my artillery. I had sent back my aid-de-camp (Major Howard) as far as Richmond, Ind., which I pronounced a “gem of a place.” He was to bring up some stragglers. I spoke of the move in this way: “I feel that I am sent out here for some wise and good purpose. I believe my corps will be better appreciated. Already the good conduct of the soldiers excites wonder. We shall go straight on to Chattanooga. God grant us success and a speedy close to the war!” It was the prayer on many lips.

After passing over the Ohio we were upon the soil of Kentucky-upon that soil which I had at the outbreak been forbidden by a Kentuckian to touch or cross. But here the battles pro and con had been [456] fought. Both armies, Northern and Southern, had swept the State. Her citizens, divided, had given their allegiance to the South or to the Government; many hoping vainly to preserve neutrality. Much of this land of superb fertility had become waste and barren, like the battle grounds of Virginia. We thought of Buell and Bragg, of George H. Thomas and Van Dorn, and of other opposing leaders, as we coursed along through this border State. Crowds of welcoming citizens were not at the stations. War had become a desolating curse and terror. For each family the question of existence was uppermost. How shall we live How can we provide for our own And, thanks to the armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland, we could easily go beyond Kentucky and her proud Bowling Green. For Stone River had been fought, and Rosecrans had chased Bragg beyond the Tennessee. So we went peacefully, train after train, through Nashville, Murfreesboro, Wartrace, Tullahoma, Decherd, the tunnel, and Stevenson (Ala.), 120 miles to the southeast, till we intersected the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. We there turned to the east, and steamed away ten or twelve miles farther, till we stopped at a burned bridge — the bridge that once spanned the Tennessee — which Confederate necessities had caused to be destroyed. This point, with its hamlet, was Bridgeport, Ala. The railroad, which crosses at the bridge, keeps up the Tennessee Valley on the other side, without following the curvature of the river, and makes its way through gaps in the mountain ridges and across deep canyons, and, touching the Lookout range at its base and close to the water of the Tennessee, passes into the Chattanooga basin. From Bridgeport to Chattanooga the distance by this railroad route is but [457] twenty-eight miles. On the evening of October 3d, at 9 P. M., my train arrived at Stevenson, a poor town with some half dozen miserable houses. Here we found an accumulation of supplies for Rosecrans's army. He was then obliged to transport everything by wagons from that point by roads north of the Tennessee River to Chattanooga. The next morning, October 4th, we passed on to Bridgeport, where the greater portion of the Eleventh Corps had already arrived and bivouacked as well as it could without wagons and with its mixed — up baggage. The artillery was there, but the horses had not yet arrived. It was a singularly rough country — nothing but abrupt hills and mountains, nothing except the broad river and the crooked railway! Though early in October, the air was very chilly; and the old camps left by the Confederates as they withdrew to the south shore were, as old camps mostly are, very uninviting.

We found left by Rosecrans's army a small guard over a subdepot, a few workmen laboring to build a little steamer (which there was a faint hope might some time be used to take bread to our half-famished comrades at the front), an old broken-down mill, and some quartermaster's shanties. This was about all. At first everybody was homesick. The feeling was not diminished when the next day we heard of a Confederate cavalry raid in our rear. Major Howard, who was now coming forward, was detained by it at Nashville. On October 8th he noted: “The Confederate cavalry has destroyed several bridges below here, and I could not go on to join the corps and the General, who had already reached Bridgeport, on the Tennessee River, his destination for the present. I found Colonel Asmussen, chief of staff, and other officers here. Some of our [458] freight and artillery horses had not yet passed this place. The rear of the corps is all at Nashville now, and we will march by land next Saturday morning, in order that the railroad, as soon as open, may be free for supplies.”

Colonel Asmussen--a most energetic worker-had, after many troublesome delays, secured the wagons and artillery horses at Nashville, and was coming on. We had with us ten days rations for the men, but my poor friends at headquarters were obliged, as Major Howard wrote, “to go a-begging for their food,” because the headquarters-mess furniture had all been kept back at Nashville in consequence of the brilliant conduct of the inhospitable raiders. General Slocum, too, was still at Nashville, and his command stopped en route and repaired the breakages along the railway.

By these recitals one may form some idea of the anxieties of the commanders in those times. Was it wonderful that General Sherman estimated that 200,--000 men would not be too many to hold this long line in safety and still enable us to go forward and conquer the hostile army which was beyond?

I saw General Hooker after he had received his instructions from Grant to cross over the Tennessee at Bridgeport and march to form a junction with General Hazen, who was the officer selected by General Thomas to come out from Chattanooga, seize the foot of Lookout Valley, lay a pontoon bridge over the Tennessee, and defend it until our arrival. I never saw Hooker apparently so apprehensive of disaster. He said: “Why, Howard, Longstreet is up on that Lookout range with at least 10,000 fighting men. We will be obliged to make a flank march along the side and base of the mountain. I shall have scarcely so many men, [459] and must take care of my trains. It is a very hazardous operation, and almost certain to procure us a defeat.”

I did not share Hooker's apprehensions at that time, for I believed that the cooperating forces, both at Brown's Ferry and the remainder of Thomas's army beyond Lookout Mountain, would be on the watch; that if any considerable force of the enemy came against us, he would thus hopelessly divide his army. But a few days later, after a nearer survey of the country around Chattanooga, I saw that Hooker had good reasons for his surmises; for Lookout was like the Grecian Acropolis at Athens — a place for the most extended observations, quite unassailable if defended by a few men well posted, and fine grounds for well-chosen sorties. Neither Brown's Ferry nor Chattanooga could have struck a blow up there. In all this region the hills and mountains are very high, and the valleys are comparatively narrow. The smaller force in the valley was, therefore, always at a great disadvantage.

The early morning of October 27, 1863, found my command full of exhilaration and in rapid motion. We already knew the country pretty well, for we had held a grand guard at Shell Mound, six miles out on the main Bridgeport & Chattanooga Railroad, and had scouted the country to the front and the right much farther. No matter what the danger may be, the men in marching always brighten up and appear happy after remaining for considerable time in a disagreeable camp. The chills and the fevers had begun to worry our men not a little, particularly the bridge guards which had been on the south side of the Tennessee. Many poor fellows who became sallow and [460] shivering in the low grounds, where they were forced to camp, will remember with gratitude the indefatigable surgeon, Dr. Sparling, sometimes called the Charley O'Mally of the Army of the Cumberland, who lived with them in the low ground and cheered them by his jolly stories as well as by his medicines.

The forward movement was caused by a visit of General U. S. Grant, then commanding the military division. One day I was at Stevenson and, while at the railroad station, the Nashville train brought Grant, Rawlins, and one or two more of his staff. On his car I was introduced to him. He gave me his hand and said pleasantly: “I am glad to see you, General.” Then I had to do the talking. In a few minutes a staff officer from Hooker came in and offered Grant a carriage to take him to Hooker's headquarters, a quarter of a mile distant-extending also an invitation to the general to stay and partake of Hooker's hospitality. Grant replied: “If General Hooker wishes to see me he will find me on this train” The answer and the manner of it surprised me; but it was Grant's way of maintaining his ascendency where a subordinate was likely to question it. Hooker soon entered the car and paid his respects in person. Grant that day went on with me to Bridgeport and stayed with me in my tent overnight. It was there he said to me: “If I should seek a command higher than that intrusted to me by my Government I should be flying in the face of Providence.” Grant was very lame then, suffering from a fall of his horse. The next day at sunrise Rawlins lifted him into his saddle. Then with a small escort Grant rode off by the most dangerous route via Jasper and along the shore of the Tennessee to Chattanooga. [461] By this journey he set in motion the entire fall campaign against Bragg.

At last we were escaping from this dangerous soil; from the old camps of the Confederates; from guarding long lines of railway; from the work in mud and water to corduroy the roads and lay the bridges. Just what was before us nobody knew. It was at least a change.

My two divisions took the lead. Ahead of my infantry skirmishers I sent out cavalrymen. I had but few horsemen-only two companies at that time. The policy prevailed of organizing as many regiments as possible from each State which had attempted secession, when we came near them, particularly in the West; so we had in the army our First Alabama Cavalry and our First Tennessee. These regiments afforded an asylum to “loyal refugees.” In Tennessee the people at home who were full of sympathy for the rebellion were called “Southern men,” while in retaliation the others were usually denominated “renegades,” or designated by worse names.

From them I obtained two companies, one from each, and it was these who cleared, as well as a few men could, my front and right flank; the near river sufficiently covered my left. General J. W. Geary was in charge of the division of the Twelfth Corps, which was to follow mine. Slocum had sought and obtained a command on the Mississippi; therefore, before this he had left Hooker's command. The remainder of the Twelfth Corps besides Geary's division, in conjunction with some other troops, were to take care of our long line of communications. We made that first day a comfortable march — for it is not wise the first day out of camp to press the men too hard-and met no opposition. [462] We were early at Whiteside's, having marched about fifteen or sixteen miles. One can hardly imagine a rougher country. There were the steepest mountains, abrupt and rocky heights, and narrow canyonlike defiles. We found mines of coal at the summits of high peaks. They were worked with queer tramways and cars so arranged by ropes and machinery as to let down the coal hundreds of feet. The railway bridge had been supported by wooden frames, built like high scaffolding, story by story. This bridge was nearly destroyed. We found at the old Whiteside's Station one poor family consisting of a woman and several children. I then wrote in my notes, referring to this family and others in that mountain region: “How poor and how ignorant all the people are.” The poverty and the squalor was pitiable. The actual cause of the war was not known among them. They were made a prey to any unbelievable tale which made its way to the coal mines. One said to me that he had heard that a battle had been fought among the congressmen in the Capitol at Washington, and that the great war had come from that. There was one abandoned house which presented a respectable appearance; it had two fair-sized rooms. We had the rooms swept and fires lighted in the large, open chimney places and then headquarters moved in to enjoy a reasonably comfortable night. Before taking positions for the ordinary guards and outposts we encountered and chased off some of the enemy's cavalry which approached too closely and gave us annoyance. To add a little to our store of information we had captured two cavalrymen, who were held as prisoners. My inspector general, Colonel Asmussen, probed them with questions. By their reluctant accounts the position [463] and strength of the enemy was made more clear. The next morning, October 28th, the command was on hand in good time. At daylight we pulled out of camp and marched in the same order as the day before. Ascending toward Raccoon Divide we soon came upon the Confederate cavalry pickets, who fled before our advance. In the excitement of a slight skirmish and quick movement of the leading troops the ascent was soon made to the highest ground between Whiteside's and the Lookout Valley. The troops becoming somewhat scattered, a halt was called until my division was closed up. During this halt the enemy's watching forces prepared an ambush for us. They seized and occupied a wooded spur of Lookout Mountain, around the foot of which our roadway wound.

It was, perhaps, one mile south of the Wauhatchie depot. Suddenly, as our skirmish line began to feel its way along over the rough ground among the rocks and trees, there came a few rifle shots, and then in a few minutes a brisker fire. I was obliged to send forward an entire regiment before these persistent shooters could be induced to stop their fighting and fall back. We had in this affair one poor fellow killed and a few wounded. The Confederates then fled down Lookout Valley, and our advanced men, now full of excitement, like hunters in the chase, followed their trail as fast as their feet could carry them. But, as my main column shortly after emerged from the thicket and were marching along in the valley, with the lofty range of Lookout on its right, there was, as if we needed it, a new source of inspiration. From the crest of the high mountain Longstreet and his men were taking a good view of us. Just above the perpendicular rocks which crown the highest part of the range, [464] we could discover the Confederate signal officer waving and dipping his small ensign of Stars and Bars in a most lively manner, and then we saw a flash and a volume of smoke, which was soon followed by a double explosion. This at once revealed to us the position of the hostile cannon.

The cannonading began about the time we passed that intersecting road which led south from Brown's Ferry road to a landing on the Tennessee; the firing continued while we were making about two miles more of our march. My column at that time, with the best closing up which could be effected in that rocky country, must have been at least six miles in extent. This included my usual ammunition and baggage train. The Confederate gunners, therefore, had a lengthy artillery practice. They found it difficult to sufficiently depress their cannon to touch our position. At first the screaming shells went far beyond us. Owing to the echoes and reverberations caused by the mountains, the resounding of the artillery was remarkable. Some missiles fell short, but a few came near enough to make our men long for shelter, and to cause them to hasten their steps in order to gain a safer distance. Under this spectacular and noisy cannonade another man was killed and another wounded.

Being ignorant of the country, we were startled to see a considerable force crowning some round hills which suddenly rose up in our pathway. Field glasses were in demand. We could see bright flags — red, white, and blue. The Confederates had in colors the same as we. We could catch the bright gleam of gun barrels and bayonets. But while preparing to approach with great care, to be ready for war or peace, as the case should resolve itself, we heard a welcome [465] sound; it was just like our own sturdy shout; it was Hazen's men who, excited by the cannonading, had left their brigade camp and had come out to meet us. As we neared them and could catch their accents, we took in the memorable words: “Hurrah hurrah I you have opened up our bread line” It was a glad meeting; glad for us, who felt that we had accomplished the difficult march; glad for them, who had for some time been growing thin on supplies; for at times they were living only on parched corn, and not enough of that. It is always hard for a soldier or sailor in active service, who is put on half rations and is forced to resist hunger by shortening his waist belt, to continue this weakening operation too long. The slow starvation of a siege is properly more dreaded by them than the exposure in campaign and in battle.

After a few moments of kindly interchange and greeting of those who came together, Hazen's men and mine resumed their ranks. The former returned to their positions, and my command, resting its right at the foothills of Raccoon Range and in echelon with Hazen, faced toward Lookout Mountain and went into camp for the night. General Hooker, who had come on with Geary's division, joined me and established his headquarters near at hand.

Geary, who had in charge a long train of wagons, was instructed to stop back at Wauhatchie, three miles at least from my camp. As he had but little more than one division of the Twelfth Corps, it was for him a hazardous thing to do. General Hooker deemed this necessary to the holding of Lookout Valley, and he further desired to cut off and catch a small force which Bragg had been keeping on the Tennessee River. Those were the hostiles who had been so enterprising [466] and annoying as to break up our roadway on the opposite shore. The Wauhatchie crossroad was the only practicable pathway for their exit from that place, usually called Kelly's Landing. The Tennessee must be clear from Confederates, for Thomas's little steamer — the Chattanooga — was at last finished, loaded with hard bread, and already slowly winding its way up the river to supplement our venturesome march.

Still, important as Wauhatchie undoubtedly was, it was like throwing bait without hook and line before a hungry fish, to have a large train of wagons parked there, defended by so small a force as a division, in plain view of Longstreet and his observing army. For he could dart upon the bait, swallow it, and make off to his sheltered nook without much danger to himself.

Longstreet had quickly apprehended the situation and sent a force, as soon as it was dark enough to conceal its movements, to descend from his stronghold, pass westward along the Chattanooga wagon road, cross Lookout Creek, so as to secure a quick retreat in case of any miscarriage or to hold back the Eleventh Corps and Hazen, should we attempt a flank march along that front to succor Geary. All this was done. The low hills were manned and to some extent barricaded, for there were plenty of rocks and trees covering them. A Confederate division was then dispatched to attack Geary.

Some time after midnight, when our weary men were in their soundest sleep, undisturbed by the friendly moon, which was shining brightly that night, and free from apprehensions — for our march had been completed and we had a good, strong position — of a sudden the extreme stillness was broken by the roar [467] of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Everybody who was fully awake said at once: “Our men at Wauhatchie are attacked.” Instantly I sent to my division commanders (Schurz and Steinwehr) to put their troops under arms. The word of command had hardly left me when Hooker's anxious message came: “Hurry or you cannot save Geary. He has been attacked!”

The troops were quickly on foot. Schurz's men were that night especially alert and the first under arms. The road ran along at the base of the low hills which I have described, and which the Confederates were already quietly holding. Schurz was ordered to go on to Geary's relief, but he had hardly set out over the rocks and through the thickets, feeling his way to the west and north of the wagon road in the uncertain light, probably not very clear in his own mind just how to get to that heavy and continuous firing, when a skirmish fire began, coming upon his advance troops from those low hills which skirted Lookout Creek.

Just at that time I joined Hooker, who was sitting with Butterfield, his chief of staff, on the side of a knoll, where a fire had been started; for the night was cold. He was evidently disturbed, but not impatient. He thought my command was not pressing on fast enough, but agreed with me that the first thing to do was to clear those low hills along Lookout Creek. Steinwehr was coming up rapidly along the road. He designated Colonel Orland Smith's brigade for this work for his division. A little farther on, Schurz sent General Tyndall's brigade to carry the hills on his left.

As soon as these primary arrangements were effected, I said to General Hooker: “With your approval, I will take the two companies of cavalry and push through to Wauhatchie.” [468]

The general answered: “All right, Howard; I shall be here to attend to this part of the field.”

Then immediately, with my small squadron, I set out, moving toward our right till beyond range of the enemy's shots. I picked my way along the foothills of the Raccoon Mountain.

I had been gone but a few minutes when Colonel Orland Smith succeeded in deploying his brigade parallel with the road and facing toward the little hills from which a fitful and annoying fire was kept up by the Confederates; they were concealed along a ridge, and doubtless delivered their fire at random, as they fancied, by the noise, that our men were simply trying to march past them in the valley below.

Smith's men then marched with fixed bayonets across the valley road, up the woody slope, through the thickets and over the hindering rocks, still receiving a fire, but not returning it until the crest was reached. The Confederate soldiers were evidently surprised at this bold movement, and as soon as they saw in the moonlight the shimmer of bayonets they gave way at every point.

In a similar way, and at about the same time, Tyndall's brigade cleared the heights near him. What was known as Ellis's house, beyond the low hills, fell between Smith's and Tyndall's brigades. The road being now clear, Colonel Hecler, of the Eightysecond Illinois (the same who was wounded at Chancellorsville, and was now commanding a brigade), made his way as rapidly as possible toward General Geary.

While the brisk work was going on and I was pushing for Wauhatchie as fast as I could, the firing on Geary's front suddenly ceased. As I emerged into an [469] open space I could see numbers of men moving about. I called to the nearest squad: “Who goes there”

“We are Jenkins's men,” was the prompt reply. I knew that we had no such commander there, so I said: “Have you whipped the Yankees!” The same voice replied that they had tried; had got upon the Yankees' flank, but just then their men in front had given back, so that they had lost their way. Meanwhile, we drew near enough and, suddenly revealing ourselves, took them prisoners. We broke through the enemy's cordon and reached Greene, who commanded Geary's left brigade. He was frightfully wounded through the face. I knew him and his excellent work at Gettysburg; his wound now, bad as it looked, did not prove fatal. After a word, I passed on to Geary. He was a vigorous, strong, hearty and cool-headed man, who was astonished to see me suddenly appear at his side in the smoke of battle, and I was surprised to find that as he grasped my hand he trembled with emotion. Without a word he pointed down and I saw that Geary's son lay dead at his feet, killed at his father's side while commanding his battery in this action.

Shortly the complete junction was effected by my troops, and I hastened back to General Hooker to make my report.

Our loss in the Eleventh Corps was put, before the accurate count could be obtained, at 15 to 20 killed, and 125 wounded. Colonel Underwood, of the Thirty-third Massachusetts, was supposed to be mortally wounded. I soon had a conversation with him during his extreme weakness and prostration, and wrote to a friend these words about him: “He has a clear and decided Christian faith; he is a healthy and temperate man and may get well.” He was promoted for this action at Wauhatchie, [470] and did recover, though with a shortened limb, and has lived many years to be useful to his city (Boston), and to be a comfort and a help to his family.

General Thomas said in orders: “I most heartily congratulate you, General Hooker, and the troops under your command, at the brilliant success you gained over your adversary (Longstreet) on the night of the 28th ult. The bayonet charge of Howard's troops, made up the side of a steep and difficult hill, over 200 feet high, completely routing the enemy from his barricades on its top, and the repulse by Geary's division of greatly superior numbers, who attempted to surprise him, will rank among the most distinguished feats of arms of the war.”

The mules tied to park wagons became very restive under the noise of the night firing. Many of them as soon as the cannon began to roar broke away and, strangely enough, rushed straight for the enemy. Doubtless in the dim light this was taken by the Confederates for a cavalry charge. This is the battle in which occurred the “charge of the mule brigade!”

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