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1864 July 30: News from the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry in Georgia

August 2, 2014

The following letter from the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry appeared in The Prescott Journal of July 30, 1864.  The headlines are from nearly a page-worth of reports from various Wisconsin regiments and do not refer only to what appears in the letter from the 22nd Regiment.  Many of the soldiers in Company C of the 22nd Wisconsin, plus individual soldiers in other companies, were from northwest Wisconsin.

PROGRESS OF SHERMAN’S ARMY.

The Advance to the Chattahoochie [sic].

How Rebel Works are Rendered Useless.

Story of an Escaped Prisoner.

Barbarous Cruelty of Rebels.

One Hundred Day Men at Memphis.

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From the 22d Regiment.

The March to the Chattahoochee—Immense Strength of Rebel Fortifications—How General Sherman Forced their AbandonmentRebel Labor in Vain—Wholesale Desertions from the Rebels—The Feeling in Atlanta.—Departure of Col. Utley—Aid of hundred day Men Appreciated.

NEAR CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER, Ga., }
July 11, 1864. }

Arriving at our present camp five days since, we have enjoyed a needed and pleasant relaxation from the fatigue of marching and building of breastworks ;  a rest all the better from the uncertainty attending its duration.

Every day our picket line has been advanced without resistance, till it now lines with the Chattahoochee, across which the rebels hastily retreated yesterday morning, burning the bridges and leaving their outposts to swim the river or suffer capture.

Hundreds of strong, healthy rebels are deserting to our lines, and they tell us that only by regimental, brigade and division guards, and cavalry scouts, wholesale desertion is prevented.  They have fought long enough, and are willing to give up beaten.

Previous to the evacuation of the rebel works near Kenesaw [sic], we were treated to heavy cannonading along the line, while strong bodies of troops were moving to the right, rendering Johnston’s works untenable.  [Joseph E. Johnston]

From different papers we read of the departure of national militia, and their accounts of material, roadside ovations, marches and other incidentals, strongly reminding us of our primitive soldier days.  May they have no harder lot, and the expiration of their term mark the termination of the war.  We cannot but be grateful for their temporary aid.

On the evening of July 2d Col. Utley [William L. Utley] called the boys around him, and, briefly reviewing the past, wished them well in the future, and bade them good-bye.  He is succeeded in command b y Lieut. Col. Bloodgood [Edward Bloodgood].

Early on the morning of July 3d we moved forward into the abandoned works of the enemy.  A frame building on the rebel skirmish line was honeycombed by our balls, and trees nearly cut off by our artillery fire.—Two common lines passed, and we came upon a perfect mesh of obstacles :  sharp-pointed stakes set out like bayonets, and a yard wide ;  then a mass of brush, crossed, brings us to the earthworks, wide enough for a wagon to be driven along them, and behind these, strong redoubts for batteries.  The bravest men in heaviest masses could not hope to charge such works with success, but the flank movement gave a bloodless victory.—Shortly after crossing the fourth and last defensive line, our advanced battery opened on heavy columns of the retiring foe, while a rebel battery quickly replied, sending the slobbering, hissing shells among and around us, and wounding badly a few men.  You would have had one picture of war to have seen those shells cracking overhead, and the pieces propelled ahead, while the men lay close to the earth, their knapsacks shinning in the sun like the backs of huge turtles.  Our brigade was then sent forward to reconnoitre.  Companies A and F, as skirmishers, advanced for miles, through ravines, woods and fields, driving the cavalry videttes¹ before them, till we came slap against a rebel line of works.  A scout riding close to us lost his horse, but escaped with life.  The rebels opened on our column with shell, at half a mile distant.—We threw up works and held them till relieved by the 14th corps.  The movement, unsupported right or left so far to the front, endangered the brigade, and we owe it to the enemy’s ignorance of our force that we did not suffer severely in consequence.  Gen. Ward [William T. Ward], commanding, was responsible for the blunder, and was deservedly severely reprimanded by Gen. Hooker [Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker].

Independence day was celebrated by different bands playing national airs, and a continued round of cannonading as our yesterday’s advance.  Towards evening the bugles sounded, and a head of column starts away to the southwest.  As it marches out, the masses fall in, following the flags of brigades, till the field but just swarming with men is vacant, and traceless of our presence save by the empty barrels which held out bacon, and the stragglers which no regulation can restrain.  The day closed with a scare ;  rebels reported advancing in column ;  men ran to and fro ;  breastworks rose like enchantment, and when finished we learned that we had been alarmed by our own men, and had done our work for nothing.  Sleep was none the less sweet for our labor that afternoon.

The 5th found us in reserve, marching leisurely with frequent halts.  Again we come upon elaborate fortifications, trees felled for a hundred yards, the trunks adhering to the stumps ;  then the sharpened outward set fence of stakes, and the zigzag works, broad as a railroad ;  a deep pit, a log above to protect the head and arranged to roll back harmlessly if struck by cannon, and thick shades to shield the men from the glare of the sun.  There were positions for cannon, the embrasures made of post set deep and saplings braided in like the willows in a basket horizontally.  But all their labor, thanks to Sherman and the flank movement, proved in vain.

Towards night the march quickens and we come upon high hills and deep ravines densely wooded—up we toll and down we march, the sound of artillery nearer each moment, till we expect to be pushed into action, and just at evening halt.  Moving at noon next day we sweep around and march back towards the right, but near the river and to our present position, passing the 3d and 26th Wisconsin who exchanged kindly greetings as we now and then recognized an acquaintance.  Trees were crashing down and breastworks on the crest of a steep hill went up rapidly.

Our duty till the next movement, will consist in picketing and will be regarded as a relaxation.  The picket lines are very heavy and well supported.  Immediately after an advance, shovels and spades are distributed, logs placed and pits dug along the line about three rods apart, and each holding four men.  We have orders not to fire on the rebels and they do not disturb us.  To the right and left the rifles crack away singly and in volleys, and the spiteful replies never fail to come back humming through the air.

As evening comes sounds grow more distinct.  The rebels can be distinctly heard laughing and talking on the ridge in our front.  A battery, reported to be the 5th Wisconsin, came out on the skirmish line and fired a number of shots, each spinning through the embrazures of the rebel works and making them hunt their holes.  Some of our men call to the rebels and are answered.  Their replies amount to nothing more than the questions of trading coffee for tobacco.

Near the river they had worked till yesterday morning fortifying a steep ridge.  Logs fourteen feet high and firmly set fenced us out, and works covered with logs and then dirt, the front pierced for musketry, and declared to be impregnable to an infantry attack in front, by the rebel inspector who left his report in the hurry of departure, opposed our advance till the booming of our cannon across the river warned them it was time to leave in order to save their persons.

The Daily Intelligencer, printed in Atlanta, of the date of the 9th of July, was dropped by the rebels, and in its columns we learned that there is a strong party in the city who consider it already taken, and further resistance useless.  The editor boldly declares the place cannot be taken, and that Sherman [William T. Sherman] will run but few more trains on their State road.  I would send it to you, but the coarse, dilapidated sheet would be a sorry paper among your elegant exchanges.

Not upon the broad plain as in Europe, but in the depths of the wild woods do we Americans find our battle-fields.  Beneath the shade of the branching oaks and towering pines, the skirmishers or pickets—either proper, as the latter become the former when put in motion—lie and listen to the concussion of sounds like the shaking of a blanket, or the flopping of a sail with a rising breeze, far away, or the crash and roar close by.  The game of war, grand and terrible, finds no relaxation ;  to-day we are listeners, to-morrow we are foremost in the fight which others hear in quiet.  Success is ours in general.  Corps move steadily forward, and already the panic-stricken citizens are flying from our goal—Atlanta.

How the echoes of the shots from the Spencer rifle of the 102d Illinois skirmishers on our right, roll and multiply among the valleys !  Here are no houses, no cultivated fields, no trace of civilization, but a primeval forest ringing to the music of Indian warfare.  The frightened birds dare not sing, nor the squirrel leave its nest, and even the insect tribe run rapidly among the rustling leaves and seek a darker, securer retreat from the strange rumblings around them.

Night approaches and with it comes the relief—well named—and each seeks his regiment with what haste or leisure he wills.  The camp is now well laid out and a broad tract of land cleared of leaf, log and brush, and each soldier resting in his tent while the bands are playing favorite airs.

The country has been for the last two advances very fine, and taking into consideration the neglect and devastation the army has occasioned, it is a marked improvement on any region south of Kentucky.  The timber is in belts ;  the creeks are numerous and the water is tolerably good ;  a few hills—just enough to make valleys—are interspersed to make the section picturesque.

War is not at all repulsive, and three days of rest are enjoyed with zest ;  rations plenty, pure spring water handy, and the men hearty and healthy, ready for the next move on the Western chess-board.

W. H. M.

1.  A mounted sentinel stationed in advance of pickets; usually spelled vedette.

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