1862 October 24: More Details from the 12th Wisconsin on the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge
A long letter from John C. McMillen, of Prescott, with Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry. McMillen is in the same company and regiment with the Levings brothers.
This letter appeared in the November 5, 1862, issue of The Prescott Journal.
FROM THE TWELFTH REGIMENT.
CAMP NEAR BOLIVAR, Tenn. Oct 24.
Friend Lute :—I suppose that Private D1 keeps your readers posted on the movements military and unmilitary of the marching 12th, but this is only a supposition ; for a Journal here is as scarce as Union sentiments in western Tennessee, and that would be a phenomenan [sic] in the nature of things in the “land of cotton.” Three months stay in Dixie and being conversant with the chivalry, knowing something of the moral degredation [sic] to which they are fallen, we no longer wonder why they wish to secede from improvement and reform.
The elements of secession pervade the very atmosphere. We eat, drink and breathe secession. Before one has completed their first month stay they feel the whispering of secession going on in the Republic of their physical states. First, the pet state of your bowells [sic] complains of some imposed burden and threatens a disruption of the whole Republic. The threat is nothing thought of and the leaven works till the thing assumes a serious aspect, when the executive of the hospital department is applied to who offers a mild show of armed resistance. During this time other states loss clamorous, but the willing dupes of the former, have declared in favor of secession, but still cinciloation [sic] is thought advisable till the border states of your flesh show visible signs of secession. By this time there is no lack of powders and pills and plenty of subordinates to distribute them, but the indiscriminate use of them, or rather the material that they are made, barely holds the rebellion in check. By this time you will likely intimate the necessity of a more vigorous policy, when you are reminded that he will not deviate from the constitution, or in other words that the rules and maxims of the medical school must not be violated, which means that our physical union was made for the treatment and if it fails to be regulated thereby it is “bad for the” Union.
Here you are, in the army of course, excluded from the outer world of professional advice. Your glorious and wonderfully constructed Republic turned upon the “sea of cruel discord,” in vain you look for one to seize the helm and bid the rough waters subside.” You must become your own deliverer, and prescribe a remedy or leave it a matter of time and the strength of the contending parties. Common sense will decide upon the former and the believers in manifest destiny will write upon the latter. But if you are destined for a more glorious future the means will be provided however you must not neglect any means within your power, but like a sensible fellow, believe in both faith and works.
So you see that secession is contagious as I have seceded from my subject and for about as good a reason as Tennessee would secede from the Union at all. But perhaps a few items of the country between here and the Tennessee River and the occasion of the survey would be more agreeable to the appetite of your readers than the dry leaves of secession. It was understood that about 400 guerrillas were somewhere on the Obian [sic] or Clean Creek [sic]2 bottoms, some 15 miles north of Huntington, on the memorable 22d of September all the mounted men at Humboldt , comprising the mounted company of the 12th Wis. Vol., and two companies of Tennessee Vols., under the command of Capt. MAXSON [Orrin T. Maxson], were ordered to scatter, kill, or capture them. When within 5 miles of Huntington, about 7 o’clock, P. M., we met a courier who told us to hurry, as 800 guerrillas were marching on Huntington. As the command, forward, double quick, passed to the rear all were eager for the fray, and a short time found us in Huntington. 40 miles since 10 o’clock, A. M. In that place nothing definite was known as to that days movement of the gang. Next morning we started in search of the rebels. We scoured the country in search of the rebels. We scoured the country in the region of their supposed rendezvous. We caught 6 of the gang, but missed their camp, if they have any. The country is heavy timbered, very broken, affording every facility for hiding in its thousand ravines and thickets.
We stopped all night with an old planter, who owned 3,000 acres of land—has one son in the southern army, and one in the gang. We had supper and breakfast, and left him neither horse nor mule, saddle nor bridle, and continued our search in another direction for Huntington. We started, next day for Cambden [sic],3 the county sent of Benton County, mean time a company of cavalry from Trenton, 3 companies of the 12th Wis. Vols., and a section of the 7th Wis. Battery, had joined us. The cavalry reached Cambden [sic] that night. The remainder battle for the night at Sandy Creek within 8 miles of C. —— The cavalry on arriving, at Cambden [sic] found a squad of guerrillas which scattered on our approach, with the loss of 3 of their members, as prisoners. Next morning the balance of our force arrived. All the mounted men were dispatched by different routes towards the Tennessee River, while the artillery and infantry remained at Cambden [sic]. Several small parties were found by the scouts, of which 4 were killed, and 18 taken prisoners. As no enemy requiring such a force could be found next morning the artillery and infantry returned with the prisoners, and the mounted men remained till next day.
SABBATH, 28th.—We all stared by three routes for Huntington. The parties on each of the routes captured some prisoners, but met with no force more than 30 together. Several articles of contraband goods were found. In one house we found a knicknack, marked Co. G, No. 69, 14th Reg., W. V., probably taken at Shiloah [sic].
By different routes we all arrived at Humboldt on the 1st of October, without loss or accident. The country over which we traveled is generally broken with a large majority of it unimproved. Thousands of acres of that which has been cleared is abandoned.
First, worn out, and next washed in gulleys, leaving it beyond redemption. Benton County is the poorest county I ever saw. Poor thin soil, and the people are in perfect keeping with the soil. They are all rank secessions which affords guerrillas a good opportunity along the Tennessee River. Fire and sword, seems to be the only cure for secession and guerrilla warfare in such localities.
On the 2d inst, the General ordered an inspection of our Regiment, and expressed himself disappointed in finding us so well drilled, and in such good condition for the field. He gave notice for us to hold ourselves in ready to march in an hour’s warning. On the next day the rebels attacked Corinth. At sundown we had a dispatch from Bolivar that a train was on its way for us. To be ready with our days rations. At 10, P.M., we were off. Arrived at Bolivar by daylight. We rested for the day in a grove of timber, having no orders to march forward. This was the “winter of discontent.”4
The battle of Davis’s Mill5 was in progress; we could hear the steady boom of cannon from the Hatchie, 25 miles off, but could not judge of the result. Towards evening, the sound seemed more distant but steady. By this time Hurlbert [sic: Stephen A. Hurlbut] had driven the rebels three miles, and Price [Sterling Price] had taken a strong position on the east bank of the Hatchie. Our troops had to cross the bridge under the fire of their batteries, which they did and placed their batteries within 75 yards of the rebel batteries; took their guns by storm, and caused them to retreat leaving with us 13 guns, 2 of which were 24 pounders, 1,000 stand of arms, and 400 prisoners. Prices’ retreat was soon cut off by Rosencrans [sic: William S. Rosecrans], who pursued him from Corinth, and captured the last of his cannon, and drawed his scattered army towards Grand Junction, where he was intercepted by Sherman [Sherman] and compelled him to abandon his army and burn what was left of his train. Price escaped by stealth to Holly Springs and his men as best as they could.6
At sundown a courier from the field arrived with orders for us to report at Pochahontas [sic: Pocahontas], on the Hatchie. Next morning we had three hard crackers and a slice of raw pork apiece, issued to us, when we started at the rate of 4 miles an hour. The night was hot and the roads dusty, but we reached the battle-field by 9 o’clock, next morning, hungry, tired, foot-sore and disappointed. The battle was fought, the day was won. The foe was captured, or fled. For the third time Price and his army had skadaddled [sic] before we arrived. We spent the day in capturing straggling rebels, looking up wounded soldiers, and surveying the horrors of a battle field. Dead rebels were found in heaps in the woods, carried off the field to hide their loss. One hundred dead rebels were found in one heap.—Our loss in wounded was heavy, which you have heard before this time. Our loss in killed did not exceed sixty. At dark we countermarched for Boliver [sic] ; arrived next day at noon. The prisoners brought to this place started on the 8th to Hall Springs, to be exchanged. They took a receipt for them, as we had no prisoners there.
Bolivar has a handsome location—contains some very fine houses, mostly occupied as headquarters. The city had a population of 2,500, but I think the 2,000 were somewhere else at present.—There are about 2,000 troops at this place at present. Our position is very strong between the city and Hatchie. There are seven forts which commands any approach from the south or west, and the river defends the position on the north and east. Our tents have arrived, and we are encamped about 1½ miles northwest of the city, and we have again settled down to the manotany [sic] of camp life, after sleeping out of doors for ten nights. How soon we may leave we cannot tell. The railroad from this place to Grand Junction is being repaired. There will likely be a forward movement soon in that direction. The health of the regiment is very good—only four in the hospital. Recruits are coming in slowly ; two companies are full to the maximum number. Lieut. Col. Pool [sic: Poole] has gone home to Wisconsin. His health has been poor for some time. Our Col. is the idol of the regiment. Our Major makes a very good subordinate officer, but if chief in command, he would be so anxious for fame that I fear he would taste the realities before he would be prepared.7
The weather is fine—days warm and nights cool ; no frost yet. The leaves are assuming a yellow appearance. This morning one instinctively made for the fire, where our attentive darkey was cooking breakfast. Each tent is provided with one at Government expense.
J. C. McMILLEN.
1. We haven’t heard from “Private D”—Wilber P. Dale—in a long time.
2. The Obion River and Clear Creek.
3. Camden—without the “b”—is the county seat of Benton County, Tennessee.
4. “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York,” is from William Shakespeare’s play Richard III.
5. Another name for the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge, which took place on the 5th of October.
6. A little more detail than we got from Edwin Levings in his recent letter.
7. Lieutenant Colonel Dewitt C. Poole, from Madison; Colonel George E. Bryant, also from Madison; and Major John M. Price, from Barton.