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1864 June 4: Wisconsin Men with Sherman in Georgia

June 7, 2014

From The Prescott Journal of June 4, 1864.

Wisconsin Men in Sherman’s Advance—Incidents of the Campaign.

Wisconsin has several regiments in the grand army under Sherman [William T. Sherman], which is penetrating so far into the bowels of rebeldom.  We are not able to learn exactly what troops from this state are at the front with him, but we believe the following are included :  The 1st, 3d, 10th, 15th, 21st, 24th, 25th and 26th infantry, the 1st cavalry, the 3d, 5th, 6th and 8th batteries of artillery.  Correspondents give some interresting [sic] details of the marches and battles which have already occurred.

Speaking of the contest at Rocky Face Ridge, the correspondent of the New York Tribune says :

The top of this Ridge is nothing but a mass of broken rocks and ledges, a sort of hog’s back, not wider than a wagon track, along which only three or four men can march abreast.  At intervals are abrupt and rugged ledges, so broken that a horse cannot travel, and men can only pick their way with difficulty.  A battle in the Alps could only equal the contest now going on here, half way to the clouds, among rocks and stony gorges of the hills.  From this eyrie the whole country lies like a map beneath the eye, now, however, obscured by a thick haze, which over spreads the lower hills and valleys.  One cannot visit this place without feeling how almost hopeless the task must be to dislodge and [sic] enemy thus entrenched by nature.  The position may be turned, but it seems as difficult to capture as it would to storm the Palisades from the Hudson.

On the west side of Rocky Face the 60th Illinois Volunteers pushed upward at a position toward the southern extremity of the mountain, and some portion of the troops reached within 50 yards of the Rebel riflemen, who fell back to the two gaps or depressions in the crest as the Union troops advanced.  They finally reached a perpendicular cliff, under which the Rebel sharpshooters could not reach them with their rifles, so they began to throw stones and roll rocks down upon them.  Here they remained for some time, within speaking distance, the Rebels calling out to them in the choice phraseology of the chivalry.

A corporal of the 60th balloed [sic: bellowed?] to the Rebels, and told them if they would stop firing stones he would read to them the President’s Proclamation.  The offer was at first received with derisive yells ;  but they soon became quiet, and the corporal read to them the Amnesty Proclamation.  When he came to some part they did not approve, they would set up a fiendish yell, as if in defiance, and then send down an installment of rocks by way of interlude.  But the corporal kept on in spite of these uncivil demonstrations and finished the document, when there was another outburst of yells, mingled with laughter, and the old business of tumbling down the rocks and firing was again resumed.

After fighting all day on the 14th, about ten o’clock at night, French’s¹ rebel division stole stealthily toward our line, and advancing by column, attempted to turn our left.—A fresh brigade from the heights was hurried across the rolling ground below, and succeeded after a desperate conflict in driving the enemy back.  The struggle seen from the hills was grand beyond description.  Lifted above a line of battle, the musketry seems like hammers and the sea of sparks that fall from the flame as it leaps from the muzzle like so many sparks from an anvil.  To see a whole line firing, not by volley, but as rapidly as the men may load, and at night, the line of flame looks like glowing chain work that artisans are welding at the forge.  Listen to it attentivety [sic], and no one will say that there are anvils employed of different weights.  Some have a tinkling treble, and others have a hoarse dull bass.  Mingle with this now, the bellowings of the artillery, and the chime makes real music.

On the 15th Gen. SHERMAN determined to carry a high knob on the enemy’s right.  The force chosen for the attack was led by Gen. WARD,² of Kentucky, the 70th Indiana leading and the brigades of Gen. COBURN [John Coburn] and Col. WOOD [James Wood], assisting.³  On the very summit of this almost inaccessible knob, the enemy had constructed a redoubt for four guns.  Our troops bravely stormed these works, pressing through a storm of cannon shot and bullets, entering embrasures, shooting the gunners at their work and raising our flag on the parapet.

The correspondent gives the following account of what followed :

Just in rear of the redoubt ran a splendid line of rifle-pits, rising from behind wich [sic] the rebels pour in such withering volleys that we were forced to retire form the work.  Though the interstices, now and then, as the breeze carries off the sulphur cloud, the flag is seen waved by the faithful color-bearer.

Finding that the brigade was not strong enough to carry the rifle-pits, Col. Harrison4—upon whom, in consequence of the severe wounding of Gen. Ward, the command of the brigade devolved—determined to withdraw the troops under cover of the fort and hill.

As we were leaving the rebels, thinking we were repulsed, cheered lustly.  This stung the gallant color-bearer Hess,5 of the 129th Illinois, and springing back to the embrasure again, stood and floated the colors defiantly at the enemy.  Brave fellow, his death atoned his rashness.  A rebel levelling [sic] his musket shot him through his heart.  There were other bands to grasp the flag and it came back only to return and wave from the very spot where its former bearer fell.

The boys were determined not to let the guns slip from their grasp, and about three hundred huddled under cover of the redoubt, and picked off every enemy that made an effort to take them out.  Was ever a battery in such an anomalous position?  Within grasp almost of two parties, and yet it would be almost death to either to attempt their seizure.  There with straining eyes lay the disputants hour after hour, killing and maiming each other, and yet both determinedly clinging to the trophy.  After dark the rebels made a charge for the battery, but the staunch three hundred drove them back and retained possession.  About 11 o’clock at night the 800 men were released by a detail which with spades widened the embrazures [sic] and dragged out the guns.

Speaking of the attack on Rocky Face and the effecting of a lodgment there on the 8th, the Journal correspondent says: ” The 15th Wisconsin regiment—the original Norwegians—ascended to the summit of the ridge and held it firmly until relieved by Gen. Newton [John Newton] under proper orders.”

The same correspondent gives an account of the fight on the 9th, resulting in the capture of Col. La Grange.6  He says :

This daring cavalryman whose short experience has already won for him in the army a distinction that a few enjoy, for cool calculating judgement in the hour of battle, I regret very much to say encountered an overwhelming force to-day near Poplar Spring, on the main road from Cleveland to Dalton, and was captured.  His officers and men in referring to his personal intrepidity as displayed in the effort to-day to retrieve his fortunes after others had almost ceased to hope, pay the highest tribute to his character that could be tendered.

The Col. has for a long time been commanding a brigade of cavalry in Col. Ed. McCook’s division [Edward M. McCook], which I have referred to before as operating on Schofield’s left [John M. Schofield].  The particulars are not fully given as yet, and perhaps will not be accurately known until the official report is forwarded.  From what I can gather however, it seems that Col. La Grange, isolated and acting somewhat independently of the main force, encountered a line of rebel skirmishers near Poplar Spring, and drove them to shelter of a little fort.  From all appearances and from such information as he could obtain from the citizens, the rebels had no force of consequence at the fort, and he determined to charge and take it.

The enemy, it appears, had concealed two regiments of infantry, that rose and poured in such a destructive fire that the line was forced to withdraw.  In this encounter, Col. La Grange’s horse was shot under him, and he received some painful bruises.  On either flank, in addition to the infantry that lay in ambuscade, a force of cavalry, much superior in numbers to the brigade under La Grange, had been concealed up to this time, and now bore down upon his little force to crush it at a blow.  Equal to any emergency where personal bravery is required, the Colonel prepared to resist and fight manfully until overpowered.  His horse falling caused his capture.  He lost, I am informed, over a hundred men killed, wounded and missing.

We make up the following list of casualties from various sources.  We find no names of killed, and the following are all wounded [these are all Wisconsin regiments] :
First Infantry— Joel L. Briggs, C, leg.
Twenty-first Infantry— Corp. D. H. Moslip, B.
Twenty-fourth Infantry— H. Hoffman, E, hand.
Twenty-fifth Infantry— Serg’t T. Y. Clarke, A, B, right chest, severe; R. N. Byingson, B, severely; T. Smith, B, slight; Andy Young, B, right thigh, slight; J. W. Tackwood, C, left thigh, slight; D. S. Hawes, right thigh, severe; G. M. Snow, D, head, slight; E. H. Moore, E, left arm, slight; Pat Haney, E, head, slight; Joseph Shell, lower third of thigh; John Conrad, K, both legs, severe.
Twenty sixth Infantry— First Lt. S. Junger, A, thigh; Serg’t F Strollberg, I, leg.
First Cavalry— F. Duble, D, groin; G. F. Allen, E, arm; T. J. Leech, K, leg; G. Nood, F, leg; G. W. Thompson, F, face; A. Chester, shoulder; Chas. Bouter, D, head.
Sixth Battery— M. T. Catland.

1.  Samuel Gibbs French (1818-1910) graduated from West Point in 1843 and was a career military officer up to 1856 when he resigned his commission to become a planter in Mississippi. When the Civil War started French chose the Confederate side and was appointed chief of ordnance for Mississippi. In October 1861 he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate army and was promoted to major general in August 1862. French commanded a division at Jackson, Mississippi, during Johnston’s effort to relieve the Siege of Vicksburg. Later he served under Leonidas Polk in Mississippi. French served in the Atlanta Campaign as part of the Army of Tennessee. In early October 5, 1864, after the fall of Atlanta, French and his division were sent to capture Allatoona Pass and break Sherman’s line of communication, but the pass was held by a Union garrison who defended it in the Battle of Allatoona. When federal reinforcements arrived, French withdrew his division and rejoined the Army of Tennessee. French served in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign (September 18-December 27, 1864), but in December illness forced him to return home to recuperate. He returned to service in 1865, commanding forces in Mobile, Alabama, until the end of the war. After the War, he returned home to Mississippi and his plantation. He wrote a book, Two Wars, about his experiences in the Civil War.
2.  William Thomas Ward (1808-1878) was a lawyer in Kentucky who served as a major in the Mexican War. Ward served in the Kentucky House of Representatives (1850) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1851-1853). When the Civil War started he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Union Army. Ward led a brigade in the XX Corps during the early stages of the Atlanta Campaign. After General Daniel Butterfield went on leave, Ward commanded the 3rd Division in the XX Corps for the remainder of the campaign, including conspicuous service at the Battle of Peachtree Creek, and in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign. After the War, Ward returned to Kentucky to law.
3.  In Daniel Butterfield’s 3rd Division in the XX Corps, Ward led the 1st Brigade, Coburn the 2nd Brigade, and Wood the 3rd Brigade. Ward’s Brigade included the 70th Indiana Infantry (see next footnote), and Wood’s Brigade included the 26th Wisconsin Infantry.
4.  This is the future president of the United States, Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901). He was the colonel of the 70th Indiana Infantry. General Ward’s brigade, which included the 70th Indiana, was ordered to take a Confederate artillery position at Resaca and Harrison led his regiment in the charge and they were successful in capturing the artillery. This was the 70th Indiana’s first large battle. General Ward was wounded in the fighting, and Harrison took over brigade command. After the War, Harrison served as a U.S. senator from Indiana (1881-1887), and was the 23rd president of the United States (1889-1893).
5.  Frederick Hess (1827-1864) was a sergeant in Company H of the 129th Illinois Infantry. He was killed May 15, 1864, at the Battle of Resaca.
6.  Oscar Hugh La Grange (1837-1915) moved to Wisconsin with his family in 1845 and graduated from Ripon College and the University of Wisconsin. He became an abolitionist and participated in the Kansas warfare known as Bleeding Kansas. With the start of the Civil War he enlisted in the 4th Wisconsin Infantry [Jerry Flint’s regiment], but transferred to the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. In 1863, La Grange became a brigade commander in the Army of the Cumberland (2nd Brigade, 1st Division). He participated in the Battle of Chickamauga. In 1864, La Grange was serving in the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge when he was taken prisoner. He was exchanged three months later and after returning to action, La Grange and his brigade played a vital role in the Battle of West Point. After the Civil War he served as superintendent of the San Francisco Mint.

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