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1862 March 26: “The sights of a battle field are terrible to behold”

March 31, 2012

The March 26, 1862, issue of The Hudson North Star contained excerpts from a letter by Bob MacNider with the 15th Illinois Infantry to his friend George Frissel, written from Fort Donelson in Tennessee back on March 2.

FORT DONELSON, TENN., March 2.

FRIEND FRISSEL :—Your letter of the 10th January, came to me in due time.  My Regiment was then in Missouri.  Since then we have made a forward movement, and have now got a strong hold in dixie [sic] land.  You have heard and read before this time, all about the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson, the evacuation of Bowling Green and the occupation of Nashville, by General Buel [Don Carlos Buel].  Our forces are gaining ground remarkably fast, with but very little loss of life, into the heart of the country chosen by our enemies, fortified and entrenched to resist our attacks, and on the bloddy fields of Kentucky and Tennessee, prove as they were wont to make us believe, that Southern men could neither be whipped nor subjugated—but they have been wofully [sic] disappointed, are driven back from their old stamping grounds, and are now seeking refuge in northern Alabama.  The day is fast approaching when our good old Flag will flutter in the breeze in every State, unmolested.  God speed.  We gained a decisive victory at this place, captured 10,000 prisoners, 15,000 small arms, 60 pieces of artillery with a large amount of stores.  The fort was built on a high hill or mound commanding the river, and the North side of the main land.  On the West and South sides they had strong field works, rifle pits, masked batteries and entrenchments thrown up In [sic] every place where an attack might be made ;  still withal they could not resist the impetuous charges of our brave soldiers.  It was here that the hardest fighting was done (on the South and West sides.)  The traitor Floyd [John B. Floyd], when our gun boats shelled them out of the fort, made a move with 7,000 Infantry, one Regiment of cavalry and four batteries of artillery, and undertook to force his way throuogh our lines, but they were met by men who enlisted to fight—by western men who came to avenge the dishonor shown our flag at Sumpter [sic], by Illinoians who still remember the immortal Baker [Edward Dickinson Baker] that fell a victim to treachery at Ball’s Bluff.  Three times did he try to break our lines, and three times did he fail in the attempt.  This was on the center and extreme right of our line.  General Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] knowing that they must have weakened their force in the fort, if possible.  This charge was given to Brigadier General Smith [Charles F. Smith], who gallantly led his Brigade, the 2nd Iowa, in the lead.  This Regiment fought like devils, and with the exception of the 11th Illinois, lost more men than any other three on the ground.  They went up the height on a double quick, under the murderous fire, scaled the fort, bayoneting all before them.  This was the evening of the third day, and when night came Floyd made his escape, crossing the river with about three thousand men.  The next morning the fort surrendered unconditionally.

The sights of a battle field [sic] are terrible to behold.  It is all very fine to stay at home and talk about going to war, but when you see the stern realities of it, and the ghastly features of the dead, and hear the pitiful cries of the wounded, the stoutest heart will shrink.  I cannot give an accurate account of our loss, some 400 killed and 1200 wounded I think.  The rebel loss will never be accurately ascertained, for they employed all manner of ways to get rid of their dead, throwing them in the river and under piles of manure, any way to keep us from seeing them.  I saw one secesh that had been shot in the forehead on the first day of the fight, the ball striking him just above the eyebrows and glancing upward penetrating the skull.  He was leaning against a log in an insensible state, foaming at the mouth and his brain oozing from his skull.  There he lay all the time we were burying the dead, no one would kill him—still if they had, it would have been an act of charity.

The prisoners that were captured seemed to be all very well pleased with the way we cared for them, and mostly all of the Tennesseans said they were gone done fighting for Jeff Davis, said they had been fooled by their leading politicians, and hoped we would catch Floyd and hang him.  They speak with great indignation when alluding to Floyd’s escape, and say he is a traitor to them, as he was to us.

The Texan troops were rank disunionists, and were quite saucy, but they found their match in our boys.  There was a squad of Texans detailed to bury their dead ;  one of them supposing that he was unseen, kicked one of our wounded men in the stomach, saying “take that you d—d Yankee.”  As good luck would have it, a Lieutenant of the sharp shooters came up at the time and seeing the performance drew his revolver and shot him dead in his tracks.  The others said he did right, and said they always thought he would come to some such end—took him by the collar and snaked him into the hole alongside of his comrades, which he had been detailed to bury.  So goes a soldiers life.

Among the trophies of war, the letters we found furnished no small amount of amusement to us.  I read love letters day after day, having nothing else to do or read ;  they made good fun for the boys.  One that came from some place in Louisiana, from some old planter’s gal writing to her lover, who it appeared was an officer.  She spoke of the Yankees as some strange sort of animal and thought it would be quite a curiosity to see one of them.  Finally, in the last part of her letter, she told him that her pet monkey was lonesome, and she did not know but it was sick, and wanted him to catch her a live Yankee and send him to her to play with her monkey.  Poor fellow he is gone to that big watering place, (Chicago)1 and will not be able to grant her wish, but doubtless she will get Yankees enough to divert her monkey, before the lapse of many days.

BOB MACNIDER,
Co. I.  15 Reg. Ill. Vol., Ft. Donelson Tenn.

1.  Camp Douglas, in Chicago (Illinois) was a Union Army prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers taken prisoner.

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