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1864 August 10: “We frequently work all night with the ax, pick & spade and are able to protect ourselves”

August 10, 2014

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., Aug 10th, 1864.

Ever Dear Parents,

                                   We were gladdened last night by the arrival of your letter of the 31st July, it having been but nine days on the way ~ pretty quick time.

Well, I am thankful I have no bad news for you.  We are both safe and able to do our regular duty.  If you have received our letters, you know all about those battles.  Yet, we have certainly seen the “elephant.”  We see more or less of him daily.

You say you heard the 12th was on the extreme right.  Not so.  Our Div. was on the right of the Corps, and our Brig. the centre Brig. & the 12th on the right of it.  Only the left wing companies were much exposed and they had a hand in repelling the charge of the enemy.  Co. B lost heavily.  The charge we made the day before was the most severe on us.  If you have seen the Wis. State Journal you have read a full account of those battles.  Our Chaplain Walker, of our Co. is correspondent.¹

We are shortening our lines as rapidly as possible, closing up on them.  Yesterday I was on the skirmish line again and the line advanced about 70 rods.  The rebels fell back, but before night we received their leaden compliments and returned them.  We were in a rather uncomfortable position for we could hear the rebels erecting a batteries to shell us out.  This morning they have opened from them on our advance & third line of works which are in an open field exposed to an enfilading fire, but I tell you the spade is being used here.  We frequently work all night with the ax, pick & spade and are able to protect ourselves.  Close to our Co. is one of our batteries of 8 guns.  Yesterday, all day long, our batteries, from our position around to the extreme left, were shelling the city.  We can not see it here but we are only 2 miles from it.  By climbing trees we can see it.  We are sanguine of taking Atlanta, but not for some time yet.  The rebels are defending their city bravely, and we may not be able to take it for weeks yet.  We have built 3 strong lines here.  The 12th [Wis.] & 31st Ills. have been in front for some time, but they are now in the 2nd line, and the other 2 Regiments of the Brig., 16th Wis. & 30 Ills., are out in the the front line.  The rebels are now shelling us now lively.  I have quit writing several times and I don’t know but I shall have to quit altogether.  I guess I’ll stop a while ~ till they cease firing, anyway.   Homer² is cooking beans, or was, says they are under fire now & they may cook without watching for a while.  They won’t stop firing, & I’ll commence writing again.

Dale³ arrived this morning looking and feeling firstrate.  He had a good chance to serve out the remainder of his time in Louisville in the Provost Marshall’s [sic] office as clerk, but would not accept it, for he wanted, he said, to see the front and participate in the struggle for Atlanta.  A noble spirit that.  Not like many men we have who are too anxious to get to the rear, & if sick & once there, manage to figure for a safe positions as clerks or something else, that cheating the country out of active service.  I despise such men, I can not help it.  Our Co. has men of that stamp back at Nashville, Chattanooga & other places who should be here; and I’ll venture there are thousands of men, well & able, doing some unimportant duty in the rear.  I hope no more 1 years men will be accepted.  They are too anxious to have their time out and are not good for much.

The story Balcomb tells about the Capt. is a down right lie.4  The Capt. has his faults but I can exhonerate [sic] him from that charge.  He led the men, loped right off like a man and did his duty.  It was not a charge however as you supposed.  We ran across the open field to the woods then crept up on the flank of the rebel skirmishers.  I want you should understand that Balcom is a grumbler, a fault-finder.  He is a Fremont man.  You would say a Copperhead, and I will say talks like one, if not, in fact, one.  I have heard him say that after he gets out of service he would not turn his finger over to save the country.  He is one of these discontented, faultfinding grumbling characters, & when you see him you may know he can tell yarns.

I hope you will not try to do too much on that bottom land.  You can easily overdo, and you must not do it.  We wish we could help you, & hope we may yet be able.  Let those 500,000 men come down here & you will have the pleasure of seeing this trouble ended in a short time.  Not before they come, I fear & am sure.  Had we 500,000 men reinforcements we could drive or annihilate this rebel army in our front.  Atlanta is hard to capture, but it is not Atlanta we want, altogether, we must destroy the rebel army.  Give us the men and it shall be done.  I have been dodging shell for some time and my letter looks rather hard, but you must pardon that.  Only some horses were hit, just back of us.  The rebels have got some big guns, 84 pars, & the pieces make a noise like ducks when flying.

The weather for a few days has been very rainy — quite unpleasant, hot to warm here as with you.  I have drawn a new suit of clothes & don’t look quite so hard as I did.  Write as usual & believe me your loving boy,

Edwin.

P.S. — Thomson & David McCleary are in the Alton prison for smuggling in Memphis for the rebels.  “The way of transgressors is hard.”  Send some Tribunes or Sentinels.     Edwin

1.  Henry J. Walker, from Delona, was in Company A before becoming the 12th Regiment’s chaplain on July 2, 1864.
2.  Edwin’s brother, Homer, also in Company A of the 12th.
3.  Wilber P. Dale, from River Falls.  Dale had sickness problems from the very beginning, even being left behind in Wisconsin when the 12th first left the state.
4.  James Balcom, from Kinnickinnick. He was transferred to Company I on May 1, 1864, perhaps because of his charges against Captain Orrin T. Maxson, who will resign September 18, 1864.

Edwin Levings letter of August 10, 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 August 10, 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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