Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"We have lost Atlanta."

Saturday, September 17, 1864, Jackson Hospital

Here in this hospital, it does not rain or snow on me. I am dry. The stoves do not run out of wood.The sustenance is not the Spottswood but it is better than what we were issued in the trenches. There is fresh bread when there is flour. There is some coffee but not much. The meat is mostly not blue. As there is much paperwork here, there is much ink. I must remember to "requisition" some when I leave. If we listen carefully, we can hear gunfire in the distance. We know that none of it can reach us. We are safe here.

I do not wish to stay here. In spite of all the conditions here, I want to go home. Home is back in the company with my pards. I miss them all.This is no place for a soldier. I cannot defend my country from here. I want to go back to the trenches where I can do some good. A surgeon said that in three or four days, I might be released.

It was the cold that sent me here. That and Assistant Surgeon Willis, that is. A good many of us were suffering from the effects of too many working parties on the trenches in the cold. Firewood is hard to come by. We used up all the nearby woods early on. We go further and further afield to get firewood. 

One morning, during sick call, eighteen of us including Sergeant Major Steele, reported to First Sergeant Wade to be taken for examination by the surgeon.He was not there so Willis took over for him. Six of us were deemed sick enough to be sent to Richmond. The others not so selected were to be made well within the division hospital.

It was not a long ride on the railroad as far as distance was concerned but it took almost two hours to arrive at the Richmond station. In better days, it would have taken only some forty minutes. There was no one hawking anything during the trip much to our disappointment.

I was assigned a bed next to Creighton in one of the wards. He has the rheumatism and I have bronchitis. We were preceded by some other Hornets including Blackmon and Sims.
Sims is now dead. His wounds last month eventually cost him a leg and that cost him his life. I saw him only a couple of hours before he passed into the next world. Blackmon looks to be healing nicely from his wound.

There are some entertainments here. There is a library of sorts. The religious tracts are well-worn.  One may read popular novels like Maid of Esopus and Massasoit's Daughter as well as the newspapers. There is news from the west. We have lost Atlanta. It belongs to Sherman and Lincoln now. Joe Johnston was replaced by the gallant Hood. He was shot up rather badly at Gettysburg and Chickamauga but that did not stop him from taking over our western army.  One Richmond paper has said that the fall is a trifling affair. Hood has pluck and will know how to deal with Sherman.

Our General Lee has pluck and more. He knows how to handle Grant. 

I Send You These Few Lines.

It is now the autumn of fourth year of the war. The news is not good for the nation calling itself the Confederate States of America. Atlanta has gone up. The nation is split in two up the Mississippi. Losses on both sides have gone far beyond appalling. The North can replace theirs. The Confederacy can not. Supplies of all sorts are scarce. The lack of adequate rations has reached desperate proportions. The list of problems and shortcomings is long.

Still, the Confederacy yet exists. As long as her armies are in the field, she lives. Lee's army has repeatedly demonstrated that in spite of every hardship that is thrown at it, it can continue to bloody Grant's nose. Give Lee a chance and he will hurt the Yankees.

The western army of the Confederacy does not share the same level of success as the eastern army does. The Army of Tennessee, under a succession of commanders, has been driven from its' homeland with little hope or ability to return. The last commander, Joseph E. Johnston, has been removed by President Davis. John Bell Hood, formerly a division commander in Lee's army, will now get a chance to show what he can do.

Hood is, indeed, shot up rather badly. At Gettysburg, his left arm was wounded so badly that it was useless. At Chickamauga, another wound cost him his right leg.

Tooms' comment about the fall of Atlanta being a trifling affair is from the Richmond Daily Examiner of September 5, 1864. The two novels mentioned, currently available in reprint, were  forerunners of the post-war dime novel era.

Of the people mentioned in this diary entry, all were on the muster rolls at the time. The rolls show that George M. Creighton was in Richmond's Jackson Hospital at this time with rheumatism. The sergeant major of the regiment, Joseph N. Steele, was also absent, sick at this time but where he was sent is not recorded. Wesley Blackmon, also in the same hospital, was recovering from a wound suffered in August. That same month, Garrett Sims suffered a wound which caused the amputation of his leg at the same hospital. Unlike Creighton, poor Sims did not survive.

The material on firewood is sources from the brigade historian, J.F.J. Caldwell.

The third quarter of 1864 is just about over. The last quarter will see some changes that will be recorded by Tooms in his diary. There will be other changes that will not be so recorded. These changes will be in this blog itself and these changes in the 21st century will be driven by historical circumstances of the 19th.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"This cracked them"

Friday, September 2, 1864, Petersburg

 I will give the Yankees some credit, but not much. They are a persistent bunch of scoundrels. Like loathsome spiders, they work their way from their central web to strike out in various directions, always looking for something to trap and destroy.

The last time that we met them was north of the James when some of them tried to break into Richmond. Our Lee gathered up his people and advanced to whip the Yankees. We have done this several times since the start of the campaign season. The Yankees may be persistent but they have learned nothing after all their defeats. They have tried it again and we whipped them again. This time they tried to break up the Weldon.

Last week, we moved at midday. Usually, we leave camp in the morning to meet them. We left our works, which we were still improving, south of Petersburg. As is normal these days, the weather was unkind to we infantry. There was plenty of Sun to go around. Our canteens were emptied early on and there was little opportunity to replenish them. Not a few fell out along the line of march thanks to the heat. That night, stragglers came in all night. We camped near Holly Point Church.

That night, as we know to do before the anticipated battle the next day, we tended to our muskets, equipment and uniforms, in that order. Our muskets are our lives. Ammunition was passed around and cartridge boxes were checked. Slings on haversacks and canteens were examined and, if found wanting, repaired. It just would not do to lose a canteen during a battle.

Our spirits were high. We have rarely failed to drive them away from their positions even when outnumbered and under the weight of their artillery. We are accustomed to whipping them and we are quite fond of doing so. Our supper rations was not more than bad corn meal and bad salt horse but we did not mind as we are also accustomed to making the Yankees replenish our haversacks from their own. We laughed and joked, as we always have, about what we expect to feast upon when the battle is over.

All of us want cheese, no matter how old or what color. We all want meat, with beef being preferred. Unless we capture a camp with a butcher issuing fresh beef, all we get are the chuncks of salt pork from their haversacks. We sometimes find a flask of spirits, especially if the former owner was an officer. We talk of apple fritters, chocolate cake, peaches in brandy and other such delicacies that are just so much fanticys.

And then there is coffee. We all want it. Indeed, we crave it. All a Yankee is worth is his shoes and his coffee. We will take his sugar, too.

General McGowan has returned to us just in time to resume command of this brigade. He had been absented from us since his wounding at Spottsylvania in May.

It was early on Thursday morning when we rolled up our blankets, had a quick breakfast and formed up on the road. The brigade crossed the Rowanty at Mink's Neck Bridge and then we rested before resuming the march towards Ream's Station. At noon, we stopped in order that we might be formed into line of battle and then we advanced across an open field.

It was nothing to drive in their pickets but once they retreated behind their own lines, the way was clear the Yankees to open up on us. They had plenty of artillery and knew how to use it against us who lacked cover. We returned to our starting places and advanced a second time. We were stopped again by the fire from their muskets and artillery. We reformed again, taking quite awhile to do so.

We tried a third time, this time hitting another part of their line from a different direction. We were re-enforced by General Heth and a battalion of artillery under Pegram. This cracked them. Some of the Yankees broke and ran. We were able to take their part of their works. Their abandoning their line meant abandoning their artillery behind them and we showed them no mercy. Piece by piece, their line was turned back until they engaged in a general, hurried withdrawal. We took their works and we kept them through the night.

We did not pursue the retreating Yankees and few of us wanted to do so. Between the heat and the battle, we were all used up. Our regiment that day lost its' commander, Colonel Bookter. He had returned to command not long ago after being wounded in the Wilderness.

There were prisoners to herd and a battlefield to pick over. A good number of Southrons were able to replace old muskets with new ones. As usual, anything worth having was gathered up by the new owners. Castles and Holton both found cheese in their new haversacks. That night, there was enough coffee with sugar for all. I have new shoes which I will use when my present ones surrender. New trousers and two new shirts complete my wardrobe. We found a goodly amount of soap amongst the victors' spoils. It has been some time since any of us have been clean.

The revelry of the victors did not last long that night. We welcomed the sleep. The next day, the 26th, we returned to our Petersburg works. Here we remain. It has been quiet.

I Send You These Few Lines

The battle described above was the Battle of Ream's Station, not nearly as well known as Fredericksburg, but not every Civil War battlefield was a Fredericksburg. Or a Ream's Station.

Grant had sent forces under General Hancock to tear up the Weldon Railroad and reduce the supplies arriving to sustain Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Lee saw this as an opportunity to strike and kill a part of Grant's Army of the Potomac while it was detached from the main body and unable to be supported. Hancock suffered 2,750 casualties. Lee's attack, led by A.P. Hill, suffered but 720. Hill's men captured nine cannon and 3100 small arms.

Actually, Hill commanded only the opening moves of the assault. He took sick and turned over operations to Cadmus Wilcox, the division commander in which McGowan served as a brigadier. When Henry Heth arrived with his reinforcements, he assumed overall command. Heth is a division commander like Wilcox. Both serve in Hill's corps.

Pegram is William Pegram, often called, "Willie". He was one of the more talented artillery commanders in the Confederacy.

Although Hancock was defeated in his raid on the railroad, a previous raid tore up enough track that Lee's supplies had to be taken from the trains and hauled by wagon around the gap to other trains. It was a burden on the supply resources but not an insurmountable one.

Another battle is over. Another attempt by Grant to break Lee has failed but Grant is not going home. Grant is determined to stay in Virginia. Lee is equally determined to make him go. What will Grant do next? What will Lee do?