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1864 July 6: “We dashed up a hilly slope in the woods and entered their works & planted our color!”

July 6, 2014

In E. B Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin we find the following brief description of what the 12th Wisconsin Infantry was doing on July 5-6, 1864:

“On the 5th, it [the 12th Wisconsin] charged with the division upon the enemy’s works, near the creek, and forced him to retire across the stream to his main works.  Fortifying the position thus gained, they advanced the picket line to the bank of the creek, and occupied the ground until the 8th, when they crossed the stream, and established themselves in rifle pits on the opposite bank.”

In the following letter Edwin Levings, of Company A of the 12th Wisconsin, describes in great detail the same two days.  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.  The last few sentences are written along the edges of the stationery and upside down at the top of pages 3 and 4, and some of the small, hastily-written words are difficult to read, hence the two [_] indicating words we could not decipher.

Camp of the 12th Wis. Vet. Vols.   Ga.
July 6th, 1864 —

Ever Dear Parents,

                                   We looked for yesterday’s mail to bring us a letter from you, but no letter came; and as we have determined to write you often and keep you informed of our welfare and movements, we will not wait for answer.

I wrote you on the 4th.  Yesterday the 17th Corps again advanced and gallantly charged and drove the rebels back to their works on the Chattahoochee.  The 4th Div. drove them 3 miles.  Our Brig. charged on their advance works and drove them out without losing a man.  We had to advance over very uneven ground, covered with thick woods and bushes, and frequently the lines had to be halted & reformed to prevent confusion.  Co. B, with companies from the other Regts. skirmished with the rebels and the balance of the 32nd Ill. and the 12th followed closely and when we neared their works both lines commenced yelling; and the skirmishers halting to let us pass, we dashed up a hilly slope in the woods and entered their works & planted our color!  We pressed them so hard and raised such a yell that we hardly got a sight of the Confederacies [e.g., Confederates].  A short rest, and we renewed the chase for another mile, when we came in view of the rebel works, and halted.  Then our batteries began shelling their forts and were answered by a vigorous fire, till finally the rebels for some cause ceased firing.  [paragraph break added]

About 5 P. M. we again advanced, almost all the way on the run, leaving our knapsacks behind.  We were nearly out of breath climbing & descending the hills which were covered with dense brush and scattering large trees.  We reached our present position when a charge was determined upon.  When the order came, the little Col. shook his head as much as to say he should do no such thing.  He told the Staff Officer how disadvantageous the ground was & called the Col. of the 32nd [John Logan] to go with him to lay the facts before the Brig. Commander, Col. Sanderson [William L. Sanderson, of the 23rd Indiana], but there seemed no chance to avoid a charge, and preparations for it commenced, when Co. A went down in front & relieved Co. B, on the skirmish line.  For some reason unknown to me the charge was not made.  Col. Logan of the 32nd said whiskey came near making us make the charge.  We should have lost our whole brigade, I believe, if we had made it.  I do not think Gen. Gresham [Walter Q. Gresham] or Blair [Francis P. Blair] renew the character of the ground in front of us.  I will describe it.  Our skirmish line is on a creek ¼ of a mile distant.  That of the rebs 200 yds. or more further on.  The water is from 3 to 5 feet in depth, & swift.  The banks are lined with bushes which afford no protection from bullets.  A Regt. could not get across under the murderous artillery fire to which it would [be] exposed in a hour, except after dark.  600 yds. from the creek is a heavily wooded ridge.  A little to the left in the open ground is one of the finest forts I ever saw.  I can count 7 embrasures¹ in it.  The rebels have certainly expended a great amount of labor in its construction.  It commands the sloping ground in front for half a mile.  In front of it is a strong abattis² of brush and sharpened stakes driven obliquely into the ground.  Their breastworks are of the first class. [paragraph break added]

Last night there was a great stir over in their lines.  We could hear distincly [sic] wagons and artillery rattling along, men shouting & laughing, officers giving commands to troops, &c.  The supposition was the chaps were falling back as we could hear wagons moving across a bridge or pontoons.  I could not believe it.  I think it was re[-]enforcements coming up.  They were chopping all night also, & the rebels are still there.  They shot pretty close to me this morning when drinking my coffee.  We dug rifle pits but were soon relieved by some of the 15 Corps boys.  A few minutes ago a piece of shell from one of our own batteries in the rear works off in its [__] & killed two men of the 12th.  I do not know their names.  3 of the 32 were killed by rebel shell last night.  Co. B lost 3 wounded in skirmishes yesterday.  I think we shall crawl upon them by digging rifle pits.  No firing to-day to amount to much.  The regts. have entrenched themselves and [are] lying still.  Guess we will take it more easily for a time, I hope so.  We are both well & [__] mean unhurt.  Write to us soon.  Yours affectionately, Edwin Levings

1.  The Military History of Wisconsin, by E. B. Quiner (Chicago: 1866), chapter 20, page 581.  (UWRF Archives E 537 .Q56 1866; available digitally on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website).
2.  In military architecture, an embrasure is an opening in a solid wall to allow weapons to be fired out from the fortification while the person firing the weapon remains under cover.
3.  Abatis (abattis, abbattis) is the term in field fortification for an obstacle formed of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy. They are used in war to keep the approaching enemy—in this case the Union forces—under fire for as long as possible.

Edwin Levings letter of July 6, 1864, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls University Archives & Area Research Center

Edwin Levings letter of July 6, 1864, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls University Archives & Area Research Center

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