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1865 May 6: The 11th Wisconsin at the Battle of Fort Blakely

May 11, 2015

From the May 6, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The Battle of Fort Blakely took place from April 2-9, 1865, in Alabama, as part of the Mobile Campaign.



The Cincinnati Gazette has a finely written account of the operations before Mobile, and the final occupation of that city.  One of the strongest defences of the city was Blakeley, in the storming of which the 11th Wisconsin, under command of Maj. MILLER,¹ won great distinction.  Col. HARRIS,² of the 11th, commanded a brigade.  We extract the account of the storming of Blakeley :


As I looked through the embrasures constructed for Capt. Rice’s guns, and saw the nature and extent of the ground over which our soldiers must pass in order to reach the enemy, I felt my heart almost sink within me.  It would be impossible for them to move in line.  Each man must climb and clamber for himself, and that over a distance of nearly seven hundred yards, through masses of matted timber, which really seemed insurmountable.  There could be none of the moral power and courage which moving in line of battle gives.  The strength of each stout soul must alone sustain its owner as he made the fearful journey.  There could be none of the enthusiasm and excitement produced by gallant officers careering around on spirited chargers.  From the Major General down to the private soldier, each must scramble along on foot—each one must pick and push his way through the tangled mass of timber at the same time that he breasted the fir from the works.


Our advance skirmishers began to feel their way, and the rebels immediately opened their artillery.  Now it so happened that the point where Gens. Garrard³ and McArthur [John McArthur] were stationed, (a little to the left of the 17th Ohio battery,) although the best for observation, was probably the most exposed of any along the whole line ;  for it was just at the mouth of a ravine which the enemy had all along taken special pains to sweep with his cannon.  A storm of shot and shell tore through the air immediately around us, and shivered to atoms some pine trees in our rear.  I stooped into the trench, and saw lying there the fragments of a shell which had burst almost at the feet of Major Sample.  The brave General McArthur stood cool and collected upou [sic] the works, glass in hand, to watch the advance of the skirmishers, as did also Colonel Harris, who was here near the center of his brigade.  It seemed impossible that they should escape, and General Gerrard warned both to descend for a moment into the ditch.  The next instant a huge shell darted like lightning within a couple of feet of them, and with a stunning shock exploded into fragments just beyond.  Both then betook themselves for a few minutes to such poor shelter as the trench afforded.


At six o’clock the advance of our skirmish lines had fairly begun ;  and the regiments I have named as constituting what may be called the first line of Gen. Garrard’s division, were moving with loud shouts towards the rebel works.  Then all sense of danger from shells or bullets was forgotten by those who remained behind, and hundreds who had hitherto lain closely in the trenches, jumped up and cheered on their comrades.

I looked with the rest and the scene was indeed a strange one.  Wreaths of thin, blue smoke were curling around the rebel ramparts, lit up continually by spurts and flashes of vindictive fire.  A rolling sound, like the call to battle, beaten upon a thousand drums, pulsated through the air.  Never for a moment did the fire slacken—not for an instant was there an intermission in the sound.  Secure behind their works, the rebel foe poured a continuous stream of bullets in the faces of the advancing soldiers.

And these were moving on, not in line of battle or in mass, nor yet in confusion or pell mell.  Each man had his own obstacle to encounter, while all glanced from time to time at the flags of their respective regiments, ready to form in serried phalanx the in[_]ant the nature of the ground would admit.  At one point they could be seen leaping successively over the huge trunk of a fallen tree ;  at another, they pushed and crept through a wilderness of tangled branches.  Here they disappeared for a moment in the depths of a ravine ;  there they leaped a line of obstacles at a bound.  But whether climbing, leaping or creeping, they still held their faces steadily toward the enemy ;  still looked steadily in the face of that line of angry fire ;  and scarcely deigning to discharge a musket in return, except at the rebel skirmishers who fled wildly before them, seeking the shelter of their works, they still advanced.  Now they have reached the abattis, and are pushing the sharpened branches aside with their bayonets.


A ringing cheer sounded along our lines.—A short, sharp struggle takes place at the foot of the rebel rampart.  Our men have flung themselves across the ditch, and are clambering up the outer slope of the works.  Another moment, and something flashes like a meteor through the smoke and fire.  Thank God, it is the sacred banner of the stars !  It floats as ever mid the storm of battle, the emblem of liberty and light ;  and in an instant long lines of blue-coated soldiers are ranged upon either side of it, standing proudly erect upon the crest of the hostile works !

It was the flag of the 11th Wisconsin, whose appearance there, betokening victory, sent a thrill through all hearts, and made each man who looked upon it, as it fluttered over the rebel breastworks, envy the heroes who had placed it there.  O, the ecstasy of that moment to the patriot soul, when the banner which symbolizes to him all the dearest objects of his enthusiasm, his reverence and his love—that flag whose every fold is bright with the light of freedom, amid whose brilliant stripes cluster sweet thoughts of country and of home ;  and whose every star speaks of the strength and glory of the Republic—how grand the moment when, after being borne by gallant hands amid the storm of battle, it is seen to flash at last upon the defenses of the foe, revealing the fact of victory !

The last rays of the setting sun struggling through the branches of the trees that fringed the river, fell on that waving flag ;  and I could almost fancy that the ray of light was the glance of a blessed angel, who, looking upon our banner through a curtain of clouds, had sailed in joy to see it once more triumphant, and had illumed it with the smile.

Scarce had the loud shout which greeted the appearance of the flag of the 11th Wisconsin broken forth, when my attention was directed a little further towards our left, and I saw the flag of the 119th Illinois also fluttering over the works.  Those of other regiments in the advance line were soon placed there also by the stout hands which bore them and the stern bayonets that guarded them.

1.  Jesse Stoddard Miller (1838-1923), from Richland Center, first joined Company K of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry (3 months). After mustering out, he re-enlisted as captain of the Richland County Plowboys, which became Company D of the 11th Wisconsin Infantry. In August 1863, he was promoted to major and commanded the regiment until June 16, 1865, when he mustered out. After the Civil War, Miller study law and was admitted to the bar; then manufactured sash, door, and blinds; was appointed foreman of the State Prison at Waupan; moved to Chicago (1872) where he was a contractor and builder; and finally moved to Nebraska where he practiced law and and served as the county attorney of Boone County and as assistant city attorney and city prosecutor of Omaha.
2.  Charles L. Harris (1834-1910) graduated from West Point but chose to study law instead of joining the military. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the 1st Wisconsin Infantry and shortly after became colonel of the 11th Wisconsin. He was wounded at the Battle of Cotton Plant (July 7, 1862) and later was given command of brigade operations at St. Louis. In 1863, the 11th Wisconsin was attached to the XIX Corps and they participated in the Battle of Port Gibson and the Red River Campaign. In 1864, they were assigned to the XVI Corps. Harris mustered out September 4, 1865. After the War, he moved to Nebraska where he where he worked as a lawyer and merchant, and became a Nebraska State Senator. Interestingly, Jesse Miller, followed him to Nebraska.
3.  Kenner Garrard (1827-1879) was member of a prominent Ohio military family—two brothers and a cousin were also Civil War generals—and his grandfather was the second governor of Kentucky. He graduated from West Point in 1851. He participated in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Garrard led a cavalry division during the Atlanta Campaign. He developed a reputation for personal bravery and was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Nashville as an infantry division commander. He ended the war in Alabama and was instrumental in the capture of Montgomery.

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