15 - WAR AGAIN - THE BATTLE OF NASHVILLE
I had only thirty days leave of absence after which I was to report to parole camp at Chicago, but this I would not do, so I soon set about to raise as many volunteers as I could to take back with me to our Regiment. The Colonel had said "get twenty men if possible, and just as many more as you can. Company H can take all that our Company doesn't need". The first thing I did was to go to the office of the Sentinel and engage it there to get out allot of handbills to advertise for men. There was considerable talk of a draft to be made, so the consequence was a good many of the men were substitutes. They received from $250 to $1,000 dollars.
Many farmers were generous in giving farm products in addition to the cash bounty. One farmer gave two fine big loads of wood. All farm products were high in price. Wheat was two and one half dollars per bushel; corn was from twenty to thirty cents per bushel. The women could care for that grain better than any other crops. Many a women cared for a forty acre field of corn. They were surely as brave in the battle of life as were there son's and husband's in the battles of the war.
To return to our preparations for going to the front, we boarded a train for Chicago. I presented my pass to the Conductor in question and explained that my forty men were bound for Nashville, as was myself. Upon arriving at Indianapolis we went to the Provost Marshal and explained the situation, whereupon he provided us with transportation to Louisville Kentucky, and also requisitions for rations. At Louisville we were taken care of at the barracks where we stayed three nights and two days.
While here we enjoyed an occasion of the most enjoyable entertainment, the lack of which most of us had never before experienced. It was Romeo And Juliet, played by Kate Claxton, and a very capable actor, but who's name I cannot remember now. We were introduced to Miss Claxton, and she received us very differentially. We thoroughly enjoyed an informal visit with her after which she presented us with passes for as long as we should stay in Louisville. The opera house was a very grand place we thought, and the audience very aristocratic mainly, it appeared to us. We were all inspired by the beautiful play and this splendid occasion. We never forgot the cordial reception and kindness of Kate Claxton. I have always cherished the memory of that splendid occasion. We had such a good time in Louisville that we almost regretted it when the time came for us to move forward.
I received the command from the Provost that all arrangements were completed for our departure the next day at four o'clock in the afternoon. There were about one thousand men ready to proceed to Nashville. At Nashville General Thomas, Scofield, and John C. Smith were preparing for battle with General Hood - commander of the Confederates. It was estimated that there were about fifty thousand of them, so General Thomas wouldn't risk an engagement until more men arrived.
We were hastened with all possible speed as the battle was hourly expected. When we arrived there we found our men busy throwing up breastworks. Our forces extended in a line about three miles long. Our gun boats were on the Tennessee River to prevent the Rebels from flanking us. The Rebels were about a mile distant, protected by forts and rifle pits. We were busy drilling, etcetera, until a week later when the battle commenced. Many of the guns were not fit for service so a dispatch was sent to Louisville for Enfield muzzle loading rifles.
The battle opened about nine o'clock in the morning in skirmishing by the pickets. This continued all day, the heaviest firing being done by the artillery. The only damage done by the Rebel shells was the demolition of a few Negro shanties beyond us. Yes, we did have some very sad damage done to us - the Colonel's brother was killed by a bullet from a sharpshooter within a few minutes after the battle commenced. I was very much bereaved over this fine boys life being taken so soon. One thing I was thankful for, and that was that he and our Colonel, his brother, had a good long visit shortly before.
There was some skirmishing done that night. The next morning, about half past nine, the Rebels made an assault upon nearly the center of our Division. We had a whole Brigade of Negroes in our Division, many of whom were in the Massacre of Milikens Bend. There yell was terrifying as they leaped forward to meet the Rebels to revenge the slaughter of five hundred of their fellows at Millikens Bend. It was said afterwards that their officers lost control of them, so eager were they for revenge. The roar of the firing of the long battlefront was awfully deafening. We were one of the Regiments who were immediate in the rear of the Negroes to support them. I remember of one great stalwart Negro Corporal saying just before the charge - "if you see a Negro soldier run from the battle, shoot or bayonet him". It was never necessary to do so, they fought bravely. Whenever the order was given for the Negroes to drop we fired over their heads, so in that way volley after volley was poured into the ranks of the Rebels with deadly effect. We had fired eighty rounds of ammunition before they began to weaken. The Rebels started to retreat, that is when the Negroes pursued the enemy withdrawal with vengeance - bayoneting and clubbing with their muskets while the Rebels were in complete confusion. We drove them across the Tennessee River.
Our Regiment went on to Huntsville Alabama, one Regiment went back to Nashville with prisoners where they remained till they could be transported north. The rout of the Rebels was complete. It was estimated that General Hood had more than five hundred of his men when he passed through Huntsville. It was told after the battle that many of the prisoners taken were demoralized with the drink of gunpowder and whisky. Our great advantage was in our artillery forts and ample supply of ammunition, also the welfare condition of our men. While the Rebels had only field pieces of artillery, the scarcity of ammunition and the deplorable starvation of their men, they drank heavily to nerve themselves for battle but it did them more harm than good.
One commanding officer, who had held a high position in the state, and owned a large plantation with a magnificent mansion near Nashville, at the Battle of Franklin was so courageous and desperate that rode his horse unto our defenses where he was shot with perhaps a dozen bullets. He died fighting in the most extraordinary bravery seen on the battlefield.
Huntsville was a nice little city situated in the prettiest country I had south. The soil seemed to be very good for agricultural purposes as there were many beautiful farms in the vicinity. One thing was very remarkable, that which remains very vivid in my memory, was a mammoth spring which would have been able to run the average flower mill today. It's source from a slight rise of the surface, there was ample ground surrounding it for the camping ground for three thousand men.
General Steadman had supervision of us during the winter. We built many log cabins for the winter shelter. We used tenting and our overcoats a great deal for bedding. There were many Confederates, who upon there return home, swore allegiance to the Union. There were other young fellows who were homeless, who swore allegiance, and joined our army voluntarily. The winter was very mild. The days of snow being very few and the ice on the streams very thin. The health of the troops is exceptionally good and we had a very jolly social times. We did very little picket duty and that was mostly guard service. Card playing and music were our chief diversions or means of entertainment. The bands played every night and they surely did produce lovely music. We had regimental drill every week and brigade drill every two or three weeks.
We enjoyed considerable commercial relations with the people surrounding our encampment. Buying the produce of their farms as far as our funds would allow. There were several families who regularly drew rations from us. Wheat grew quite well on the higher ground and corn generally did well. But it was really surprising that they could produce crops as well as they did considering their crude tilling of the soil. Occasionally a squad of us would take a supply of our apple rations and go on a trading expedition and get in return such delicious things as yams, peanuts and good cornbread.
We were well prepared to capture game but it is the remarkable thing that the game, so abundant previous to the war, was then nearly entirely absent from the country in that region, and from the reports we heard, it was evident that the same conditions existed over nearly the entire Southern states, with the exception of the country immediately adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.
On one of our expeditions we came across an old Dutch oven in a deserted house and this was immediately put in to good use in camp. It was much better for cooking operations than our boiling kettles. We were tired of so much boiled stuff as we had had for many months, so the baking by our Dutch oven was hailed with delight.
Our health generally was excellent. I had regained most of the weight I had lost, and was feeling quite vigorous when orders came in March to get ready to move to Nicka-Jack Cove in Tennessee. It was supposed to be the Southern opening of the famous Mammoth Cave. We were sent there to guard a high trestle bridge which was feared the bushwhackers might destroy. We interesting times in trying to explore this wonderful place, the cave. The opening was perhaps six or seven feet wide. The tunnel, or cave, did not appear to descend much from the level of the entrance. We never ventured into this mysterious cave without several of us together, and well supplied with lighting apparatus; candles, pine torches, and etcetera. One could wonder through the dark caverns of that wonderful place for a week without finding it his way out. We penetrated into it's mysterious windings. Some parts of the passage were only a few feet in width and others widening out into great room like places.
The coloring of the stones and minerals was too beautiful for it to describe. We came across a stream of water as clear as crystal and which had cut a channel eight to ten feet in width and from ten to six inches in depth; it's water was very cold. We saw a great many fish in it but the only way we could succeed in capturing any of them was to use our handkerchiefs as seines. They were indeed without eyes. They were very quick in their movements, quite impossible to catch with ones bare hands. Strange as it may seem, these were the first fish we had seen in any stream of the South, for the fish as well as the fowl had been frightened away by the noise of war, we supposed.
One of our party considered himself considerable of a map maker so volunteered to take quick sketches of the cave as we progressed in our explorations. So that should we become in the least confused in returning, all that would be necessary to set us right was to refer to this map and all would be fixed right in an instant. We had left torches burning in several places to aid us in our return. When we had explored this increasingly wonderful place for awhile, we concluded we had better return. Once we did became uncertain of our bearings, of course our map was immediately brought into use to help us out of our troubles, but sad to say, this only increased our confusion- and it's author was the most frightened man in the whole Company. We found finally that we were on the right road back by tramping upon pieces of stone which we had purposely broken off on our way in for this very purpose. We all were glad to get out into God's sunlight again, though it was a most wonderful experience for anyone. It was a remarkable fact that the air was so fresh all through the cave.
The only military duty we had to do at Nicka-Jack's Cove was regular guard duty. When we had been here for about three weeks we received orders from Washington to break camp and go to Strawberry Plains situated in the corners of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Here we were to block the move that Lee might make in that direction to avoid Grant from the East, Sherman from the South and Sheridan from the North. It was about the first of April when we arrived at Strawberry Plains, and spring was on in all of it's Southern beauty, and the awful horrors of war were more keenly realized, it seemed then, in contrast with the peace and gentleness of the beautiful spring.
While we were on our march, after we had left Nicka-Jack Cove, we saw a snake; the only one I saw in the South with the exception of those I saw in the Flint River in Florida while in my escape from Andersonville. It seemed that even the snakes deserted the country from the blight of war. We were all quite interested in this snake because of it's strangeness to us. Being about three feet long and as thick as a man's forearm and of silver and golden colors, it was really very pretty. The boys were about to kill it through the force of habit, when a Tenessee'n came to it's rescue saying "no! no! boys, don't kill that snake, we want all of them we can get. Why they're the finest thing to eat up spiders and such vermin, I wouldn't take a hundred dollars for that if it was on my place". We respected the wishes of this native of the country; the whole Regiment stopped to see what was the object of such close attention.