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1864 July 29: “We have the honor of saving the day”–The 12th Wisconsin in the Battle of Ezra Church

July 29, 2014

Edwin Levings—with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry in the Atlanta Campaign—is probably describing in this letter the Battle of Ezra Church, which was fought on July 28, 1864, six days after the Battle of Atlanta.  Following the death of General James B. McPherson at the Battle of Atlanta, General William T. Sherman promoted General Oliver O. Howard, who had been leading the IV Corps, to head the Army of the Tennessee, which included the XV, XVI, and  XVII Corps (the 12th Wisconsin being in the XVII Corps).  Moving out on July 27, the Army of the Tennessee began their march west of Atlanta hoping to cut the railroad from Macon.  Howard halted on July 28 and his men quickly erected makeshift breastworks using logs, fence rails, and other available material.  Howard lost 562 killed and wounded in the battle while the Confederates suffered around 3,000 casualties.  Although it was a tactical defeat for the Confederates, the battle prevented Howard from reaching the railroad.

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 29th, 1864.

Ever Dear Parents,

                                  In my last I promised to write you as usual in spite of the scarcity of paper, and here it goes.  We are both well and safe.  I intimated in my last that we were about to move.  Unexpectedly to me we moved around to the west side of the city abandoning our strong works.  The entire Tenn. Army, 3 Corps, 15th, 16th & 17th, swung around to the west side.  We marched all day the 27th to do it.  At night a skirmish line was thrown out and we advanced ¾ of a mile.  Yesterday morning the whole line advanced and after some sharp skirmishing a high commanding ridge was secured and the line established.  The 2nd Div., 15th Corps charged and were repulsed with heavy loss, the rebels coming out of their works and chasing up on the ridge . Fighting of the most desperate character then began and raged from noon till dark.  The rebels were the same we fought on the other side of the city.  They had marched all night to get here and had orders to drive us back if they lost every man.  Time after time the rebels threw themselves on our boys, but were repulsed every time with awful slaughter.  The fighting was heaviest in front of the 15th Corps.  At one time they nearly broke through and would, had not the 3 regiments from our Corps, including the 12th Wis., double quicked a mile to the relief of our boys.  The 12th gave a tremendous yell as they came up & poured volley after volley into the rebel ranks that were coming through a cornfield and the Johnnies had to beat a precipitate retreat.  We have the honor of saving the day.  The 12th is winning a proud name in the battles around Atlanta.  The 15th Corps lost considerably.  The 17th Corps’ loss was small.  The 12th lost, perhaps, 25 killed & wounded.  Co. A had 3 or 4 wounded; one only severely.  John Hunter in shoulder; Edward Tubman, left fore finger; Francis Van Warner, arm; Ira A. Williams of River Falls, received a slight wound in the thigh.¹  He is with the Co. this morning ready for duty again.  I was not in the fighting yesterday, — my leg was so bad that they left me behind.  I could not run or hurry at all if necessary, so had to stay.  I hated to do it and at night went up to the Co.  My boil is much better and I think I can do duty in the ranks again.  Reinforcements from the 14th Corps came up last evening, & this morning our Regiment was relieved, & had just come back to its first position.  Gen. Hood [John Bell Hood] Com’d’g the rebels is a great fighter.  Prisoners state they don’t like him because he gets so many men killed.  We are perfectly willing they should waste themselves away in such fighting.  Their care is desperate, or they would not do it.  [Paragraph break added]

We received that tea and dried fruit on the 26th, and you may be assured we were pleased enough to get it.  Came pretty quick.  The boys using tobacco are in great need of that article.  Jack wishes you to see Lyman Powell and tell him he wants him to send him 1 lb. of chewing tobacco by earliest mail; that if Lyman can not, or does not attend to it, he would like you to do it & look to him for the pay.  We would like him to send a ½ lb. tea, also, “the stuff that cheers, but not inebriates.”  Our boys are busy this fore noon fortifying, Madam Rumor says rebels are about receiving help from Virginia.  I doubt it.  All the Atlanta R. Roads are cut.  We shall look for letters from you to-day.  Cousin Emma wrote us the other day a good long letter enclosing a fine “photo.”  Homer is washing, & I am writing.  I expect we had better change places.  If you should see me now you would ask is that Edwin?  Pretty hard life we have now, but we are all full of confidence & are determined to win & will.  John Rice’s regiment was transferred to some other part of the army when ours was & left, I believe, back in the R. R. near Marietta.  Father, what need is there of your working at painting?  You are well enough off.  You can buy some land & work it, which will be far better for your health & more satisfactory.  We want you to use that money for yourselves.  If we get killed we don’t want it.  If wounded or not, we can take care of ourselves & never will be any the worse off for your using it.  Now why don’t you do it & be content.  You are too old now do to much business & since there is not need of your working yourself so hard it would certainly more accord with our feelings that you take it more easy.  Never mind taxes.  That will be all right.  It is noon & I must stop.  Write soon & often to you affectionate boy.

  Edwin

Near Atlanta Ga.   July 29th, 1864.

Dear Parents,

                         It is with great pleasure that I now seat myself to write you a few lines to inform you of our safety, though I have not long to write for the mail will go out in an hour.  I have just been washing my clothes and return just as Ed had got dinner cooked.  Our bill of fare this noon was coffee, hard tack, and fried pork.  We calculate when we can get enough of that, we are lucky, though we have enough most of the time.  We had to get up last night after laying down to sleep, and draw rations which we were verry [sic] willing to do, although much we needed our sleep, for we have been broke of rest more or less for 8 nights.  Our Co was on the skirmish line night before last.  I never see a time when when [sic] it was so hard for men to keep awake as it was then, they did not dare to lay sit down for fear they would go to sleep.  Had I not had my gun to lean upon I should have fell down.  For I felt my self [sic] ready to drop a sleep [sic] several times during two hours.  Our regt. is throwing up earth works to protect themselves against shells.  Our regt. is in the rear of the briggade [sic] there is two lines of works in front of us.  As the mail is about to close I shall have to stop.  Give [__] to all and write soon to

Homer

 1.  Ed lists the following casualties in Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry:

  • John Hunter, from Diamond Bluff, enlisted December 18, 1863; wounded at Atlanta; discharged for a disability May 26, 1865.
  • Edward Tubman, from Hammondtown, was a veteran who originally enlisted October 30, 1861; wounded at Atlanta and mustered out with the company July 16, 1865.
  • Francis Van Warner, from New Centerville, was also a veteran who originally enlisted October 30, 1861; wounded at Atlanta and mustered out with the company July 16, 1865.
  • Ira A. Williams, from River Falls, enlisted September 18, 1861, and mustered out when his term expired on October 30, 1864. His wound was so minor that it is not recorded in the official record.
July 29, 1864, letters of Edwin D. Levings (left) and Homer Levings (right), from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

July 29, 1864, letters of Edwin D. Levings (left) and Homer Levings (right), 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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