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1864 June 16: “Our forces captured several important and commanding positions yesterday”

June 16, 2014

Edwin Levings was in Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry.  The 12th had joined the Union’s “Army of the Tennessee” on June 8, 1864, and were in the 1st Brigade, 4th Division, of General Frank P. Blair’s XVII Corps.

During June 1864, Union General William T. Sherman fought a complicated series of actions against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston across Cobb County, Georgia, at Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain (June 14), Gilgal Church (June 15), Pine Knob (June 15), Mud Creek (June 17-19), Brushy Mountain (June 19), Noonday Creek, McAfee’s Crossroads, the Battle of Kolb’s Farm (June 22), the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27), Nickajack Creek (July 5-6), and Ruff’s Mill (July 1-4).  Fighting began on June 9, 1864, and continued for approximately a month, ending after Johnston withdrew his forces to Atlanta.

On June 14, 1864, a cannon barrage killed Confederate General Leonidas Polk on Pine Mountain. Johnston realized that they could not defend Pine Mountain and late in the day on June 14th Pine Mountain was abandoned.  On June 15, Sherman ordered a general advance because he believed that the Confederate line west of Pine Mountain was now vulnerable.

E. B. Quiner in his Military History of Wisconsin,¹ described the 12th Wisconsin’s participation in this.  “On the 15th, large masses of rebels were noticed in a piece of pine woods, in front of the position, who kept up a galling fire.  General Blair, expressing a desire to know the condition of things behind this rebel cover, twenty-five men from each of six companies of the Twelfth were detached, under Captain Maxon [sic: Maxson],² who volunteered to lead the desperate enterprise.”  Quiner’s description is very similar to Ed’s description in his letter.  At the end, Quiner adds that “General McPherson [James B. McPherson], and the division and brigade commanders, complimented Captain Maxon [sic] and his little band for their indomitable bravery in thus bearding the foe in his den, and driving a brigade out of their rifle pits, and holding the ground in face of all opposition for twenty minutes with a force of only 150 men.”

On June 16, when Edwin Levings started this letter, Sherman’s headquarters were at Big Shanty.  The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Near Big Shanty, GA.
June 16th, 1864

Ever Dear Parents,

                                   You are doubtless daily scanning the newspapers expecting to read of great battles and you wonder and fear of your boys are in any of them.  I have had no letter from any of you since the 7th, but I thought I would devote a few moments in penning a brief description of our operations of yesterday, though I do not expect to mail my letter today, it being so late.—

I was in a hard fight about this time yesterday, (4 P.M.) but came out unhurt through the Kind Providence that shielded me.  Immediately after mailing my last letter to you the other day, the order came to the Co. to fall in to throw up breastworks on a new line some sixty rods in advance of our camp.  We worked like beavers till near dark in the edge of the wood carrying and piling up logs and rails and throwing up earth against them.  The other companies did their part in the night, we not having tools enough for all hands to use at once.  Then we moved our traps over over [sic] and slept soundly till morning, when we breakfasted and commenced fixing up comfortable shelter.  Other regiments had been fortifying and by morning we surprised the rebels with our new and formidable works.  [paragraph break added]

Our batteries shelled the rebel forts rigorously eliciting replies for the first time.  The rebels seemed to have an especial spite for our 15th Ohio Battery which is one of the best in the Corps.  Parrott and Napoleon guns; and, when they saw it bringing up more guns, opened spitefully upon it with artillery, and muskets from this skirmish line.  A part of the Ohio pieces were turned on the rebel pits and the rascals run away by the hundred.  The opportunity was not to be lost and a part of the 11th Iowa Infy. and 2 companies leaped over the works, and rushing forward, secured the pits.  Our own boys got into the pits in the woods but were almost immediately driven out by a superior force of rebels.  They rallied also in front of the Iowa boys and drove them back but the ground was soon regained and several prisoners captured.  [paragraph break added]

I will describe the ground in front of our Brigade.  Before us are two lofty peaks, the highest called Kenesaw [sic] Peak on which is the rebel signal station.  From the base of the peaks the ground is very undulating and covered with dense timber down to a marshy bottom; then there is point of woods & bushes running down to a little rocky creek on the right.  A detail of 25 men from each company was made to regain the pits which our boys had taken and lost; and I was first on the detail.  The Capt.² had command, and over the works we went by company, doublequick down through a cornfield to the creek under a sharp musketry and artillery fire from the rebels.  Private Rodgers³ was slightly wounded in the leg.  Other companies lost a few men, perhaps 3 or 4 wounded, in all.  After a short rest under a ledge of rocks we stealthily crept up the thicket, flanked the butternuts,4 driving them out of the pits and over a hill.  We strung along by company & had taken a dozen or more pits & 2 prisoners & were awaiting further orders, when more than a 1000 rebels appeared on our left flank and front, poured in a most terrible fire and then charged on us like demons.  We stood our ground a few minutes giving it to them warmly, but knowing we could not withstand the odds and being unsupported, we each one retreated to the point of woods.  Strange as it seems, Co. A did not lose a man or have one hit in this affair.  The other companies lost in killed and wounded &c about 7 0r 8 altogether.  I never was in so hot of a place before and I thought if I got out I would be lucky, but I did get out.  There was some tall scrambling I assure you.  The bullets hissed and screamed, and pelted the rail pits, trees & ground like hail.  The loss of our Regiment amounted to 3 killed and 16 wounded.5

Camp near Marrietta [sic] Station, Monday,
June 20th, 1864.

I will now conclude my letter & mail if possible.  We are now up on the hills below Kenesaw [sic] Mountain.  The whole line advanced yesterday.  It rained all day the 18th and the following night, and almost drowned us out of our lower and advance works which was on the edge of a marsh.  I had a nice shelter & bunk raised from the ground, but I got drenched in making it.  I fell asleep and dreamed the water, which was fast rising, had subsided 3 feet.  I awoke and found my bunk under the water and I had to leave.—

Well, to something more interesting.  Hooker [Joseph Hooker], or some other chap, again flanked old Johnson [sic] the other day and the rebels fell back in our front.  They are supposed trying to get away as far as possible, but they are falling back very slowly and making quite a stout resistance to cover the retreat of other portions of their army.  Their strongest position was in our front, but we have taken their line of works along the mountain, but not the mountain itself.  They shelled us from that yesterday and this morning, and our batteries completely silenced their fire.  When we shall advance further, I can not say.  Our forces captured several important and commanding positions yesterday, and it is reported, a battery and a locomotive and cars also.—

Well, now who do you think came last night about supper time?  It was Homer, looking first rate & feeling so.  He had drawn a new rifle & equipment at Chattanooga and was ready to go to work.  I was glad enough to see him again and to see him so well.  I have your letter, Father, which Homer brought.  It is the latest I have had.  Homer is now writing to you.  I have had no particular news to write and I will wind up.  The weather is rainy nearly the whole time; perhaps because of so much firing.  You won’t get much rain, I guess, till the rebels come further north.  If the rebels continue falling back we shall soon be around Atlanta.  Write soon and tell us what is going on.  Direct as before.

Yours affectionately ~ Edwin

1.  The Military History of Wisconsin, by E. B. Quiner (Chicago: 1866), chapter 20, pages 580-81.  (UWRF Archives E 537 .Q56 1866; available digitally on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website).
2.  Orrin T. Maxson was captain of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry at this time.
3.  Josiah B. Rogers (or Rodgers), was from Clifton in Pierce County. He enlisted January 4, 1864, and was wounded “at Kennesaw.” He is listed in Quiner’s History as being wounded on the June 15th “enterprise.” Rogers died July 14, 1865, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
4.  Butternut was a slang term for a Confederate soldier.
5.  The official count was 2 killed and 20 wounded, including—besides Rogers—Francis Hoyt, an original member of Company A who by this time is 1st lieutenant of Company I.

Edwin Levings letter of June 16, 1864, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Edwin Levings letter of June 16, 1864, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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