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1864 July 24: “My heart aches with sadness as I proceed to give the account” of the Battle of Atlanta

July 24, 2014

Edwin Levings, with Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, describes his regiment’s portion of the Battle of Atlanta.  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 Atlanta Ga., July 24th, 1864.

Ever Dear Parents,

                                  I hasten to write you knowing you must be anxious about us, for re this reaches you the news of battle in Ga will have come. We have had no chance to write  for the last 20 days and we have had nothing from you during that time.—We are both safe and unhurt ~ thanks to our Heavenly Protector who cares for us all.  [paragraph break added]

Dear Father and Mother, news of the battles of the 21st and 22nd inst has reached you through the papers and I know with what anxiety you await some tidings from us.  We were both in  those battles.  Our division charged an important point of the rebel works, took it & held it.  The 4th Div. on our right did not charge.   This was on Thursday the 21st, half way between Decatur and Atlanta, and directly east of Atlanta.  For four or five days the 17th Corps preceded by other Corps had been swinging around to the East of Atlanta via Marietta, Rossville & Decatur.  We crossed the Chattahoochee near Rossville.  Our forces had severed and destroyed the R. R. running East to Augusta and had met but little opposition.  On the 20th we passed though Decatur and took up a position 4½ miles from Atlanta, & the 4th Div supported by the 3rd drove the rebels back  1½ miles with but slight loss.  At dark the 3rd Div took up its position on the left of the 4th. Div and at 7 A. M. next morning made the charge.  Our Brigade suffered fearfully.  Co’s A & B skirmishers, followed by the 12th led the charge.  The rest of the Brigade, 16th Wis, 20th, 30th, & 31st Ills. supported us over a hill, through a cornfield, into a piece of thick woods we went, driving the rebels from their first line of works in most gallant style & inflicting some loss on the rebels.  Would to God this were the better part of the story!  My heart aches with sadness as I proceed to give the account.  [paragraph added]

Our proud old 12th lost 156 men in killed, wounded or missing.  The battle lasted a little over an hour.  The rebels fought obstinately.  We went beyond their works, but a terrible flank fire compelled us to fall back behind their works.  Co. A lost 20 men killed, wounded & missing, 1/3 the number engaged.  The killed are ~ Wm Hodgess, David S. Dresser, Henry Bowers, Julius Olison [sic], George W. Hope, Torbion Halverson.  Wounded ~ Robert Triggs, mortally; James Holman, left arm amputated; Orderly Sergt. Alva McKee, slightly; Jeremiah Caniff, severely; Andrew F. Ottman; Morris Denhem, severely; Albert Barrett, slightly; Frank Barrett, badly in shoulder; Wm Burnett, hand slightly; McCollum, leg slightly; Olin, leg slightly; Jack Carruthers, slight scratch on arm; Syness, leg; Hammer, slightly.  Totatal Total 6 killed & 14 wounded.¹  James Balsom, Co. I, was not hurt.²  [paragraph break added]

The rebel fire was very hot.  I lay behind a log for one hour, with some others, near the rebel breastworks & during that time the rebels killed 6 of our boys & wounded 7, all less than 25 ft. from me.  We dared not raise our heads to shoot but finally crawled off.  Our boys were truly brave & have been complimented for their valor.  The rebels were ugly fellows to handle but prisoners (we took 40) stated that they never saw troops charge as determinedly as we.  ~  But this battle was nothing to that of the 22nd.  The rebels attempted to destroy McPherson’s [James B. McPherson] command, the 15th, 16th & 17th Corps.  They massed their forces on the 16th Corps occupying the extreme left & nearly doubled it up on the 17th.  We were drawing rations just about noon when we heard faint musketry in our rear & ran our Div. trains moving off as fast as possible, men running for dear life.  15 minutes the great battle had fairly begun.  The rebels were coming on to the 16th Corps & were driving it back out of the woods, yelling constantly.  The 4th Div. had moved to our left and it was driven back & I believe if it were not for our 3rd Div & some of the 15 Corps they [would] have utterly destroyed us.  For 6 hours the battle raged furiously & the 16th Corps & the 4th Div. 17th lost terribly.  We checked the rebels, threw up a new line to connect with that of the 3rd Div. & facing south.  We had not half finished it, when the rebels charged on our Brigade over the same ground we did the day before for the same works.  The line of our 3rd & 2nd Brigades was that of a horse shoe, & our regiment faced west, towards Atlanta.  The rebels came up 5 lines deep, drunk with whiskey, & gunpowder & some of them actually got inside our works, but never went out.  They could not take the position.  The musketry was awful and the slaughter of rebels was awful.  A great many were captured.  We burried [sic] our & their dead in front of our line yesterday.  There were rebel guns enough in our front to arm 2 regiments.  [paragraph break added]

I tell you the boys felt bad when they saw our men falling back at the commencement of the battle. It was almost a Bull Run affair.  If we did not hold our position we knew we were “gone up” & resolved never to give it up as long as we had a cartridge.  Many regiments lost half their men before the rebels were checked & many their knapsacks.  Our train was not captured.  Part of our knapsacks were left over across a creek & fell into rebel hands.  We both [Ed and his brother Homer] lost every thing we had but our oilcloths.  We can get along without till the campaign is over.  I have borrowed stationery to write you.  The rebels were driven partly back & have concluded it was a sorry job they undertook.  All is very quiet today.  [paragraph break added]

Gen. McPherson was killed while coming to us.  Our Brig. Gen. (Force [Manning F. Force]) was wounded a day or two before.  During the rebel charge the 12th, 14th, 17th, were reported to fire on front & on both flanks but strange to tell very few were hit.  Our regiment lost but a few men that day.  The 16th did splendid fighting—so did all the troops.  Gen. Logan [John A. Logan] now takes McPherson’s place.  Sherman went through the lines & was loudly cheered.  I am suffering a good deal from a boil on my left knee.  I can hardly walk.  We have built works with traverses to guard against flank fire & are going to hold our ground.  If they come again we can use them up.   Homer has the toothache some, otherwise is well & hearty.  Jack is all right.  Hood [John B. Hood] commands the rebel army.  In the 2nd day’s fight the Co. lost 12 men, 1 wounded , 1 missing, Samuel Roberts is the missing one.  He was with the regiment wagons & is supposed to have been killed or captured.  Nothing is known concerning him.  I pity his family.  [paragraph break added]

I must not write any more.  Write us soon & often.  Give my love to Cousins S. &  H. &  tell them we hope to hear from them soon.  Affectionately yours, Edwin D. Levings

Since we came to Sherman’s army we have lost over 200 men.

1.  In alphabetical order, the casualties at the Battle of Atlanta from Company A were:

Name From Name From
Albert J. Barrett, Prescott James H. Holman, Prescott
Francis M. Barrett, Prescott George W. Hope,† Diamond Bluff
Henry Bowers,† Marinette Torbion Hulverson, Martell
William Burnett,* Clifton Mills John McCallum,* Prescott
Jeremiah Canniff, Prescott Alva McKee,* [Rockford, Minn.]
John Carruthers,* River Falls Julius O. Oleson,†³ Prescott
Morris Denhem, Pleasant Valley Anthony N. Olin,* River Falls
David L. Dresser,† Kinnickinnick Andrew F. Ottman, Trimbelle
Nathan K. Hammar,* Prescott Michael E. Synes,* Martell
William H. Hodges,† Hudson Robert Triggs, Jr.,† Kinnickinnick

Those marked with an asterisk were probably wounded very slightly as they are not listed in the official rolls as having been wounded. Those marked with a cross were killed in action on July 21, 1864, including several whom Ed lists as only wounded.

2.  James Balcom, from Kinnickinnick, was originally in Company A, but had just been transferred to Company I on May 1, 1864.
3.  Of Julius O. Oleson’s death, the official records states, “Probably an error. Has been reported living afterwards and a prisoner of war by a comrade.”

Edwin Levings letter of July 24, 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 July 24, 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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