«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
New dispositions were hastily made. Williams’ division was at once ordered to Maryland Heights, and was started out early that morning, passing over the battlefield, where many dead lay yet unburied. The stench from the swollen bodies, shapeless, bloated, bursting their clothing as they lay in the sun, was unendurable. The division marched south through Sharpsburg, thence southeast by way of Burkittsville, down the valley through which we had made our first march the year before, then turning sharply to the right, Gordon’s brigade, then commanded by Col. Ruger, climbed Maryland Heights, some two miles north of the southern terminus and moved down the spine of this rocky height, and in the afternoon stood looking over Harper’s Ferry; and off in the hazy distance in Shenandoah Valley the tents of Lee’s army could be seen.
OVEMENTS of the armies for the last week had brought them in front M of the fortified lines along the Kenesaw120 mountain. Schofield’s corps (the 23rd) was on the extreme right on the Sandtown road, Hooker on his left covered the Marietta road, Howard came next, then Palmer.
McPherson was farther to the left in front of Big Shanty. In front of the center, and to the northeast of where the Third was in line, frowned Old Kenesaw.
The right of the Union line had worked southward, and Hooker was not facing eastward against the strong lines there were an extension from Kenesaw to the southwest. His advance had brought his troops with Schofield’s on his right upon “Kulp’s Farm.” This is on a road leading to the southwest from Marietta and some three miles out. With its church, school house and slave quarters it seemed quite a village. From these houses running north is a valley in which is Greer’s plantation. The land is rising on both sides. In the ravine is a small rivulet fringed with trees, with a few thickly wooded knolls scattered over the valley and on its western sides. Hooker, knowing that a heavy force was in his front, sent out a heavy line of skirmishers on the mornsic] of the 22d. Ruger was moved to the right and gained ground forward, on the south of Kulp’s farm. There were indications of an attack; and Hooker prepared to meet it, with which view he had Williams throw out along his front a heavy line of skirmishers to keep the enemy engaged while he formed line.
The One Hundred and Twenty-third New York supported by the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, One Hundred and Forty-first new York and Fifth Connecticut, advanced across the fields toward the Greer house. Ruger’s brigade was further to the right; on the side of that was Schofield’s Twenty-third corps.
Geary’s division was on the left of Williams, whose line was well-chosen and in convex form.
Hood, who seems to have planned the attack on his own motion, formed his corps at 4 o’clock, evidently in the belief that he could strike Hooker unawares, while in march. He placed Stevenson in the center, Steward on his right, and Hindman considerable to the left — all in line of divisions front.
Throwing out a cloud of skirmishers the Confederates came on in grand array, cheering and yelling rebel style. The Union skirmishers fell back slowly, while our lines braced up to receive them. Winegar’s121 battery of 3-inch rifled guns and Woodbury’s light 12-pounders joined in a converging fire of canister and ED. NOTE. At some point after the publication of the original text of this work, the spelling of “Kenesaw” changed, and it is presently found on maps as “Kennesaw Mountain.” ED. NOTE. Lieutenant Charles E. Winegar of New York
-113case-shot, and with the guns of the Twenty-third corps, which played obliquely across the front of Ruger’s brigade, made fearful havoc with the now exposed enemy. The main force of his attack fell on Knipe’s brigade to the left. The Third Wisconsin, not itself directly confronted, as Hindman’s division had advanced further to the Union right and struck Hascall’s division of the Twenty-third corps, fired obliquely down the ravine that extended northward from where the regiment stood. The rebels, when checked by the terrible fire of Knipe’s brigade and the batteries had sought this ravine for shelter; and they were here exposed to the enfilading volleys of Ruger’s brigade, which added to the storm of bullets, shell and other missiles from the batteries soon changed their cheers into groans, shrieks and cries of terror. It is doubtful whether the regiment ever poured its fire into a more helpless and compact mass of victims. It was an episode of most murderous war. As the advancing rebels came under the deadly fire, Stewart’s line wavered. Stevenson came forward. Officers could be seen frantically waving sabers and trying to rally men. Hotter and hotter poured the fire. Soon the rebel line gave way. A panic-stricken mob, it fell back with riderless horses and draggling banners.
Our regiment was at this time well sheltered on one of the thickly-wooded knolls; and did not suffer in this action. Meantime, Hood had sent two regiments down the Powder Spring road to march past the Union right, as he supposed. They struck Hascall’s division of Schofield’s corps (Twenty-third), having passed to the right of Ruger, and were soon sent back broken, thinned and dismayed, after a stubborn fight. In this assault the Confederate loss in front of Williams and Geary was over 800; and in front of Hascall it was also great; 300 of their dead were buried by Williams’ details, and 1,100 muskets were picked up.
This mad blow of Hood’s was given in the evident belief that Hooker was unprepared and moving carelessly in column. Among his many mistakes this was a sad one for his people. A correspondent of the New York Herald who was over the field after the repulse thus writes: “Along the little stream ran a rail fence. The rebels had crowded behind this for protection, but were literally mowed down. The torn, bloody knapsacks, haversacks, and frequent pools of blood were ghastly evidences of how they suffered. The stream was choked up with bodies and discolored with blood. In the ravine and around the house where they had crowded for shelter, their bodies lay piled on one another,” this was the place into which the volleys of Ruger had poured.
An amusing episode happened while in bivouac under the guns of Kenesaw, which rather took the conceit out of the veterans, showing that they were not panic-proof, old and hardened as they were. The brigade one night had stacked arms in close order, regiment behind regiment, in a little copse of woods to be out of sight of Kenesaw. In the dead of night, when the brigade was in deepest sleep, one of the company mules got loose, ran into
-114the woods and into the bivouac of the brigade. He knocked over a stack of guns, exploding several in an adjoining regiment. The men were awakened by the shots, and accustomed to expect night attacks, their first, waking thought was that the rebels had caught them napping. There was a moment when the regiments were on the point of a general Bull Run stampede, and the Third came near catching the infection. Colonel Hawley’s voice, “Steady, men, steady, there,” restored order. The next morning there was not a man in any regiment of the brigades, who knew anything about the occurrence.
Every one insisted that he had slept soundly all night.
The work up to this time had been most arduous. Rain, mud, gloomy woods, dense thickets — a scene of dismal and nasty discomfort. Broken sleep, night marches, the constant vigilance of the picket and skirmish line, the hard labor of building breastworks — only men of skin, bone and gristle could endure such a service; and that was all that was left in the frames of these sturdy men. But they were confident, cheerful, even jolly; and when tired of shooting on the picket line, would go back a little out of range, pull out a greasy pack of cards, squat down around a rubber blanket and enjoy with zest a game of euchre or “old sledge,” and then filling the cartridge boxes return by darting from tree to tree to the skirmish lines each taking a stink to knock over a “Johnnie” before dark. During these days Col. Hawley was constantly at the front line; and Lieut.-Col. Stevenson and Major Parks were among the best commanders of a skirmish line to be found in the army.
The 23rd and 24th were spent in crowding forward a little, strengthening works, and working up toward the right of the Kenesaw position. The activity was on this day and the 26th chiefly in front of McPherson. The 25th was a skirmish day; and on the morning of the 26th the brigade forged to the right, and built a new line of works.
The 27th was the day Sherman had selected for an assault on Kenesaw.
In this bloody, unsuccessful assault the Third and Williams’ division took no part. But Ruger’s brigade was extended along Geary’s front, while he massed his division to support Howard’s corps which bore the brunt of that desperate charge and suffered the heaviest losses. McPherson had at the same time advances; and Logan’s corps had gained some ground at the base of the mountain, driving the enemy from two successive lines of works. The Sixteenth corps had also made an attack upon the enemy’s lines, but had gained no advantage.
Early in the morning of this bloody day Baird and Davis’ division moved on the right of Howard. Geary’s division (Twentieth corps), closed up on the enemy, so as to engage him on its front. Williams and Butterfield came next with Scofield [sic] (Twenty-third corps), southward on the right. In the assault on Kenesaw — no attempt to describe which is here made — Geary’s division of our corps was engaged. Williams’ division witnessed the gallant but vain
-115struggle, ready and expecting to be sent forward. Some 3,000 men of our side fell on that bloody hillside. Next day, under the flag of truce they were gathered up, the dead buried, the wounded taken out of their little coverts and cared for as well as they could be, while Confederates and Union men, generals and privates, mingled together, talked over the situation, drank together and exchanged compliments and cigars with much courtesy and “renewed assurances of distinguished consideration.” The individuals of each army always had a curiosity to see what manner of men were at the other end of their guns, and mingled freely whenever a truce permitted.
A heavy cannonade, kept up during the day on the left toward Kenesaw took place next day, 28th, and later, after the burial of the dead under truce was over, the firing was general along the whole line. On the 29th the same pastime did not prevent the usual muster. The regiment made out rolls for sixmonths pay. The last day of June was the last day of service of the nonveterans. They were mustered out July 1st; and unspeakably glad to leave, as the service for the last two months had been of the most wearing kind. The skirmishing, along the lines, showed that all was still tight and snug on the rebel front.
It is impossible to give a description accurately of the movements of the regiment between Pine and Lost Mountain and thence to the front before the southern extremity of the Kenesaw ridge. The country is very hilly, almost mountainous, heavily wooded, with dense under-growth; here and there quagmires and swamps in which some of our artillery was mired and had to be taken out piece-meal. The enemy slashed timber in their front; and in probing for their lines a volley from their heavy skirmish lines was usually the first intimation our troops had of the proximity of the adversary. Frequently our pickets and advance guards received a volley in their faces from unexpected quarters.
In the operations about Kenesaw mountain, the regiment lost in killed and died of wounds 3, in wounded 16, as was officially reported to the Adjutant General of the State.
KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS ABOUT KENESAW
KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS — Company H: Private Wm. H. Watts. Company K: Private Stephen Plum. At Kenesaw, June 21st, Company I: Privatge John T. Dudley — 3.
WOUNDED — Company A: Private Hubbard Hart. Company C: Privates Wm. Clarno and Geo. Bowden. Company D: Sergeant Wm. Smith, Corporal Joseph Wilkes, Privates Wm.
Cook, Anson G. Sears, Wm. H. Biedleman and Frederick Stetzberger. Company E:
Corporal Edw. Parrett. Company G: Sergeants W. W. Freeman and C. S. Beebe, Private L. B. Nichols. Company I: Sergeant Edw. P. Hewlitt, Privates Garrett Butler and Richard Williams — 16.
W cannon in front of Kenesaw gave him the compliments of the morning. The pickets then crept up the sides of the mountain; and soon their blue coats could be seen on the great works. All knew that orders to march would soon come. McPherson had quietly left his front on the left, slipped around our right down toward Chattahoochee; and this move put the enemy in motion backward as soon as he discovered it. “Old Sherman has give we ‘uns orders to march,” said the rebels, as they trudged away. With part of our forces across the river between him and Atlanta, Johnston’s position would be indeed perilous. So he at once fell back; and at night the Twentieth corps received orders to march. At dawn the pickets advanced, followed by the main line, passed over empty fortifications, and swept on in fine spirits, Williams’ division passing to the right of Marrietta. The day was delightful, the enemy on the run, and our division picking up prisoners at every step. The enemy covered the retreat with a battery of rifle guns which were served with wonderful skill and precision, much to the annoyance of the regiment. One of its shells unexploded, that fell in the ranks of the Third, was of English make. Later, in the trenches before Atlanta, similar shells fell in the works of the regiment, presumably from the same battery; and it bore the name with the Third men of the “English battery.” The regiment camped that night on Nickajack Creek, four miles south of Marietta. The day’s march had been through a level country heavily timbered. The whole of Sherman’s command had advanced. Thomas’ army demonstrated vigorously in the front, to allow McPherson to work to the right.
The Third regiment moved to the right one and one-half miles; and heavy captures of prisoners on our right, with several guns made July 4th more glorious. Indeed, the rebels seemed eager to be captured after the fall of Kenesaw. The prosperous campaign and a mail received from home put the troops in the highest spirits.