Henry J. Aten.

History of the Eighty-fifth regiment, Illinois volunteer infantry online

. (page 19 of 37)
Online LibraryHenry J. AtenHistory of the Eighty-fifth regiment, Illinois volunteer infantry → online text (page 19 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the prospect. Ammunition was brought up, and piled
in convenient places along the line, and every prepara-
tion made for the most stubborn defense.

It was about five o'clock when the long line of the
enemy emerged from the pine woods beyond the fields.
It was a magnificent spectacle; every company present-
ing a parade front ; every foot keeping time, while not a
skulker left that splendid line. It was a sight that even
veteran soldiers seldom see. But when the enemy came
within short range, he met a deadly fire which checked ;
then drove him back. Again and again, he rallied and
surged forward; but he could not pass a certain point.
Each assault was more hopeless than the one preceding,
and finally the rebel line rolled back into the woods, leav-
ing his killed and wounded piled thick upon the bloody

In the desperate conflict following the charge of the
Third brigade, General Fearing was severely wounded,
and, from loss of blood, was compelled to leave the field.
When retiring, he left the brigade in command of Lieu-
tenant-Colonel Langley, of the One Hundred and
Twenty-fifth Illinois. This was the second time this gal-
lant and meritorious officer had been called to assume
command of the brigade in the indescribable turmoil of
battle, and well and faithfully did he perform his duty.
General Fearing was the fourth commander to fall while
leading the Third brigade in action within less than a


294 HISTORY OF THE 85TH ILLINOIS. March, 1865.

Along the line of the First and Second brigades the
fighting was no less severe. The First brigade, after
repulsing the first attack, leaped over their works, pur-
sued the retreating rebels into their own works, and cap-
tured the colors of the Fortieth North Carolina regi-
ment. Then followed an incident rarely found in the
annals of war. A column of the enemy had passed
through the interval between the left of the First and
Second brigades and the right of Cogswell and Fearing.
Then swinging to the left, this column assailed the line
of Mitchell and Vandever from the rear. But the men
quickly passed over to the reverse side of their works,
and after a sharp and bloody struggle, repulsed this rear
attack. As the enemy began to retreat our men again
leaped their works and charged to the rear ; captured the
colors of the Fifty-fourth Virginia ; took a large number
of prisoners, and dispersed the intruding force.

The struggle was unequal throughout the day, and
at times it seemed the enemy would overwhelm our small
force, by sheer force of numbers. In the last engage-
ment every man was placed in the firing line even the
headquarter's guard and the small detachment guarding
the ammunition train filled a gap in the extended line.
No further reinforcements could be hoped for that day,
and there was nothing left but for the men to fight it out.
But when night came, the enemy had been decisively re-
pulsed at all points, and the weary troops lay down to
rest upon their arms, ready to renew the contest at a
moment's warning, and well assured that Sherman and
the right wing would be with them by daylight the next

With the repulse of his last assault, General John-


ston's declared purpose of destroying 1 Sherman's army,
by crushing one corps after another in its isolation,
failed. On the iQth he outnumbered our available force
at least three to one, but by daylight on the morning of
the 2Oth, the forces were equalized by the arrival of Gen-
eral Hazen's division of the right wing, and four brig-
ades called up from the wagon-train guard. And before
night General Sherman with his whole army was closing
down on the enemy's entrenched lines. There was
some sharp skirmishing on the 2ist, as the enemy's line
was developed, but that night General Johnston quit a
position no longer tenable, and retreated to Smithfield.
In this instance, as in all others during the war, this skill-
ful Confederate commander made a safe retreat, leaving
nothing behind except his unburied dead and the
wounded in his field hospitals.

The Union losses in the battle of Bentonville fell
largely on the Fourteenth corps, and were mostly in-
curred in the fighting of the first day. The aggregate
loss to the left wing was 1247, of which the Twentieth
corps lost 314, and the Fourteenth corps 933, the Second
division bearing more than one-half of the last men-
tioned loss. As usual, the rebel commander made no
report of his losses, but we buried 267 of his dead, and
captured 1,625 prisoners.

The official reports all speak in the highest praise of
the conduct of our officers and men. General Davis
especially requested the promotion of Brigadier General
Morgan,* which request was heartily endorsed by Gen-
eral Sherman, and within a few days after the battle of
Bentonville the commander of the Second division re-

* Rebellion Records, Serial No. 98, page 437.

296 HISTORY OF THE 85TH ILLINOIS. March, 1865.

ceived the brevet rank of major general. General Fearing
was unstinted in his commendation of the men of the
Third brigade, giving them great credit for their accu-
rate aim and low firing.* *

On the 22nd the whole army resumed the march to
Goldsboro, where it arrived and went into camp on the
following evening. Since leaving Savannah the left
wing, of which the Eighty-fifth was a part, had marched
five hundred miles, through a country noted for its broad
rivers, bad roads and almost impassable swamps. The
almost daily rains had swelled the streams, and the
heavy wagon-trains churned the soft dirt into sloughs
of bottomless mud. But in all that long march we
found no mud deep enough, no hills steep enough, and
no quicksands treacherous enough, to prevent the tak-
ing of our trains wherever the column was ordered to
move. It was not unusual to be compelled to corduroy
four or five miles of road covered in a day's march, and
in the construction of corduroy roads, the men soon be-
came very proficient. Fortunately the material was
usually found in abundance and near by. Pine saplings,
eight to ten inches through the cut, split in two, and laid
face down closely touching each other, made the best
road, but smaller saplings, unsplit poles, and even fence
rails were freely used. In some places the rising water
would float the corduroy away, at other times it would
disappear in the mud and quicksand under the heavy
trains, when another course would be laid, and generally
this had to be done in ceaseless, pitiless rain. But
through it all the men were cheerful and ever ready for
a joke. At the crossing of South river, we had more
** Rebellion Records, Serial No. 98, page 535.


than the usual difficulty, and the men had to wade a
long- distance in water up to their waists. After much
patient wading in this seemingly shoreless stream, one
soldier was heard to remark to his comrade: "I guess
Uncle Billy has struck this stream endwise."

As we approached Goldsboro, General Sherman or-
dered the wagons out of the road, and the columns to
close up and pass in review before himself and Generals
Schofield, Cox, and Terry. Wading streams, building
corduroy roads and bridges, and lifting wagons out of
the mire, had played havoc with the men's apparel.
Shoes and hats had been worn out and lost, uniforms
were torn and faded, and the whole army was in motley
garb bare feet, bare legs, torn coats, felt hats in fact,
almost every conceivable kind of headwear was to be
seen, while many a valiant warrior went without shoes
or hat. "The pride and pomp and circumstance of
glorious war" had disappeared. But the bands played;
the files closed up, and the ragged men began to step to
music for the first time in months, as they marched with
precise ranks and elastic tread, past their great leader.
Some one of the officers in the distinguished group said :
"See those poor fellows with bare legs !" To this Gen-
eral Sherman replied : "Splendid legs ! splendid legs ! I
would give both of mine for any one of them !"

Goldsboro is situated on the railroad from New
Berne to Raleigh, about midway between the two cities,
and at the point where the railroad from Wilmington to
Petersburgh crosses the first named road. Here we
were reinforced by General Schofield with the Army of
the Ohio, and the Tenth army corps under General
Terry. After assisting in the destruction of Hood's


army at Nashville, the Twenty-third army corps had
been transferred by river and rail to Washington, thence
down the Potomac and by sea to New Berne. From
New Berne, General Schofield's column had fought its
way inland, arriving at Goldsboro one day ahead of our
army, while General Terry, after capturing Fort Fisher
by storm, had moved up the Neuse river and joined
Sherman's army about the same time. With the troops
from Tennessee came many officers and men belonging
to our army, who had been in northern hospitals on
account of wounds or disease, but, now recovered, were
returning to duty. Among those returning was Lieu-
tenant Musselman, who now resumed command of Com-
pany G. He had been on leave of absence and returning
was caught with others at Chattanooga, when communi-
cations between the north and Sherman's army were sev-
ered in November. Unable to rejoin the command,
they reported to General Thomas, who assigned them to
duty in Tennessee, where they remained in the discharge
of various duties until relieved to join the army at Golds-

Two days after the arrival of Sherman's army, the
railroad from New Berne to Goldsboro was repaired and
the first train of cars came in, and the ample supplies
provided at New Berne, by the foresight of General
Grant, began to come forward to the army. This was
to be a point for general refitting, for which but a brief
stop was to be made. Clothing was brought up and
issued, and every effort was put forth to equip the army,
in the shortest possible time, for its last campaign.

In the campaign from Savannah to Goldsboro, the
Fourteenth corps destroyed 30 miles of railroad; cap-


tured 581 prisoners; 697 horses and 1,300 mules. The
corps lost in killed, wounded, and missing, 1,244 men.*

The following deaths from disease occurred in the
Eighty-fifth since the regiment moved south from At-
lanta: Enoch Mustard, of Company B, died at Savan-
nah, Ga., January 6th, 1865; Louis Ishmael, of Com-
pany C, died at Annapolis, Md., December 15th, 1864.
Captain Samuel Young, of Company D, died November
23rd, 1864, and William Boyd, of Company G, died at
Lexington, Ky., February I2th, 1865.

Daniel Koozer, of Company A, died of wounds at
Goldsboro, on the 27th. He had been detached as a
scout at division headquarters, and was wounded by
guerrillas while in the discharge of his duty.

Rebellion Records, Serial No. 98, pages 437, 438 and 439.

300 HISTORY OF THE 85TH ILLINOIS. April, 1865.


At this time the military situation was interesting and
exciting. General Lee, at Richmond and Petersburgh,
less than two hundred miles distant, was besieged by
General Grant, who was watching his adversary with
sleepless eyes. General Johnston, with the only other
respectable Confederate army, was at Smithfield, about
midway between Goldsboro and Raleigh. If Lee should
remain behind his entrenchments, in the attitude of de-
fense which he had maintained for months, his defeat
and destruction would be almost certain the moment
our army should drive Johnston beyond the Roanoke ;
and this General Sherman would be abundantly able to
do, as soon as supplies arrived in sufficient quantities
to warrant an aggressive movement. Lee might call
Johnston to his aid by forced marches, while Sherman
was refitting and getting ready to move, and with the
united armies attempt to raise the siege and ovenvhelm
Grant. But the two Confederate armies united would
not be strong enough to beat Grant in his securely en-
trenched position, and before a siege could be under-
taken, Sherman would arrive and close the last avenue
of escape. In this situation, the best thing General Lee
could do would be to quietly slip away from Grant ;
unite his army with that of Johnston near Roanoke, and
try to destroy Sherman's army before Grant could fol-
low. The question was, would Lee make the attempt
to escape from Grant, and try to fight a great battle with
the combined armies of the Confederacy against Sher-
man's army? We now know that is just what he tried

April, 1865. THE FINAL CAMPAIGN. 301

to do, and the first move he made in that direction was
the signal for Grant to strike. Accordingly on the last
day of March, thinking he saw symptoms of such a
movement, Grant struck, and, after a series of sanguin-
ary battles, the Confederate lines were broken and Lee,
with his shattered army, was put to flight. The Confed-
erate capital was evacuated, and the officers of the rebel
government became individual fugitives, each seeking
to expatriate himself.

With the reinforcements received at Goldsboro, the
army numbered eighty-eight thousand men, with ninety-
one pieces of artillery. It was, perhaps, as nearly per-
fect in instruction, equipment, and general efficiency as
volunteer troops can be made while in the field. Then,
too, in the coming campaign it was to be led by the bold-
est and best fighting generals, as corps commanders, to
be found in the field, either east or west. The Army of
Georgia, under command of General Slocum, with his
two corps commanded by Generals Jeff C. Davis and
Joseph A. Mower; the Army of the Ohio, commanded
by General Schofield, and his two corps, commanded by
Generals J. D. Cox and A. H. Terry, and the Army of
the Tennessee, commanded by General O. O. Howard,
and his two corps, commanded by Generals John A.
Logan and Frank P. Blair. Thus equipped and com-
manded, the army was prepared to fight a desperate, final
battle with the combined armies of the Confederacy, in
case Lee and Johnston should effect a junction before
General Grant could follow Lee to the Roanoke.

On April 5th, preparations for an advance had been
so far completed that orders were issued for the move-
ment to begin on the loth, and on the 6th, news was


received of the fall uf Richmond and Petersburg!!, and
the flight of Lee's army, glorious news which was des-
tined to get better and better, with one sad exception, to
the end.

At daylight on the morning of the loth of April, the
whole army moved directly against the enemy at Smith-
field, the Fourteenth corps in advance, on the main road,
and the second division the advance of the corps. With-
in three miles the enemy was found behind the usual bar-
ricades of fence rails, but his outposts were swept aside
without a moment's hesitation. A dispatch received
that morning from Virginia stated that Grant, in pur-
suit of Lee, had already made large captures of prisoners
and artillery, and this animated the eager troops to in-
crease their efforts to bring Johnston's army to battle.
There was now no delay in attacking the enemy or wait-
ing for others to turn a flank, but wherever found, the
enemy's position was promptly charged and his troops
dispersed. Early on the next morning our corps en-
tered Smithfield, to find that Johnston had retreated
after destroying the bridges over Neuse river. Here a
brief delay was encountered until the pontoons could
be brought up and a bridge laid, when the headlong pur-
suit of the enemy was resumed.

On the morning of the I2th, while passing through
one of the pine forests peculiar to that region, where the
taper columns rose a hundred feet before spreading their
branches into arches like those of some vast cathedral,
the command was halted at the end of the first hour's
march for the usual five minutes' rest. The day was
bright and warm, the scene restful and beautiful, and
while the men were enjoying their brief rest the com-

April, 1865. THE FINAL CAMPAIGN. 303

mand was electrified by the announcement that Lee,
with his entire army, had surrendered at Appomattox.
The announcement came through corps headquarters,
and General Davis, with pardonable pride, recalled the
fact that just four years before, while a lieutenant in Fort
Sumter, he had heard the first gun fired in the War of
the Rebellion. This was a happy prelude to the glori-
ous news and reminded one and all that it was the fourth
anniversary of the firing on the devoted band of heroes
in Charleston harbor. While the announcement of the
surrender of Lee and his army came to us so unexpect-
edly by the roadside, its full significance was at once
understood. All realized that the war was virtually over.
The message meant home, and wife, and children, and
happy reunions with friends throughout the land. It
carried indescribable joy to brave men, whose patience
had been sorely tried, and whose strength had been well-
night exhausted by weary marches and indecisive bat-
tles. Then after hearty cheers that rang through the
piney woods and seemed to fill the blue dome above us,
the command fell in, faced to the front, and eagerly re-
sumed the march against the only remaining army of the

Two incidents, said to have occurred upon the an-
nouncement of Lee's surrender, illustrate the humor and
the pathos of the scene. As the bearer of the glad tid-
ings dashed along the line, a soldier, quick as the mes-
sage fell upon his ears, answered : "Be dad ! You're
the man we've been looking for for the last four years."
At the roadside a woman and several small children
stood at the gate, watching the antics of the shouting
soldiers. As she realized the import of the news, she

304 HISTORY OF THE 85TH ILLINOIS. April, 1865.

turned to the children and said, "Now papa can come

The brigade passed through Raleigh on the evening
of the next day and camped for the night west of the city
limits. The capital city of North Carolina had escaped
the ravages of war, and was one of the most beautiful
cities we had seen in the South. From Raleigh the
Fourteenth corps marched thirty-six miles southwest to
Aven's ferry on the Cape Fear river, where it arrived on
the evening of the I5th. While in camp at this point,
General Johnston set up the white flag, an armistice was
proclaimed, and negotiations began for the surrender of
his army.

On the 1 7th, while the men were almost delirious
with joy over the assurance of returning peace, the
startling intelligence was received that President Lin-
coln had been assassinated. At first the men were so
stunned and dazed by this wanton and cruel murder that
they wandered about the camps aimless and speechless,
their sorrow too deep for utterance. The President had
endeared himself to the Union soldiers to an extent that
it is nearly, if not quite impossible, for those outside the
army to wholly understand. In the darkest hours of the
terrible struggle his firmness of purpose and his faith in
ultimate success had been an unfailing source of inspira-
tion. To the rank and file "Father Abraham" was no
unmeaning term. It was not a sentiment, it was a fact.
It was the precise term that described the love and vene-
ration they felt for him, whose courage rose in the dark-
est hours to the majesty of grandest heroism. They
had followed him with the confidence of children, while
he led the people with almost more than mortal wisdom.

April, 1865. THE FINAIv CAMPAIGN. 305

It was his serene confidence that restored their failing
faith his never relaxing hope that cheered them on to
victory. The question of the ages had come to be set-
tled on the battlefield, "Can a nation endure the test that
is founded upon the declaration that all men are free and
equal?" In such a contest a general might fail, many of
them did fail, but in the President there must be neither
variableness nor shadow of turning. He had com-
manded through a four-years' battle. His wisdom had
guided the people through four years of tempest and
storm with singular tact and matchless skill. Then, too,
there was a sense of personal bereavement to many who
had followed him as a trusted political leader in Illinois,
with the zeal and enthusiasm known only to youth.

Up to this hour the only desire of the men had been
to end the war and go home. To that end they had been
willing to undertake any hardship, endure every priva-
tion, and brave any danger. But now that one so gentle,
so kind and forgiving, should be so causelessly murdered
seemed incomprehensible, and they began instinctively
to lay this monstrous crime to the brutalizing influence
of a system that had debauched the people of the South
and to regard it as a legitimate consequence of rebellion
against lawful authority. Then a desire for vengeance
took possession of them, and they rejoiced in the
thought that negotiations for surrender might fail, that
hostilities might be resumed in order that they should
have an opportunity to avenge the foul crime committed
at Washington. But this terrible desire for vengeance
passed away ; the avenging hand was stayed, and neither
shot nor shell was sent on its deadly mission.

On the 1 8th an agreement was signed between Gen-

306 HISTORY OF THE 85TH ILLINOIS. April, 1865.

eral Sherman and General Johnston for the surrender of
all of the Confederate forces then remaining in the field.
But, as this agreement was conditional, it had to be sub-
mitted to the President before becoming final, and the
existing truce was continued until the agreement could
be sent to Washington for approval or rejection by the
President. As the agreement contained political ques-
tions not properly subject to the decision of a military
convention the whole agreement was unceremoniously
rejected by the President, and General Grant was
ordered to Raleigh to take command of the army in per-
son and to resume hositilities at once.

In the generous terms accorded to General Lee at
Appomattox General Grant had gone to the limit of
liberality and the authorities were not willing to grant
further concessions to those in rebellion against the Fed-
eral Union. In the exercise of generous sentiment and
sound judgment he had established a precedent which all
of his subordinates were expected to follow in their
negotiations with the enemy. So when General Sher-
man, for the moment, laid aside the character of a soldier
and assumed that of a diplomat, he permitted himself to
entertain and submit for approval terms of surrender
which the government could not sanction.

General Grant upon his arrival at Raleigh, with
graceful tact, turned his presence into an apparent visit
of consultation with Sherman, and but very few, even in
the army, knew of his visit until he had come and gone.
Without a moment's delay, General Sherman advised the
Confederate commander of the rejection of the agree-
ment, proclaimed an end to the truce, and demanded the
surrender of the rebel army upon the same terms given

April, 1865. THE FINAL CAMPAIGN. 307

to General Lee. At the same time, orders were issued
to the army to be ready to resume hostilities at the end of
the forty-eight hours' notice required by the terms of the
armistice. But there was to be no more war, the prof-
fered terms were promptly accepted, and, on the 26th,
General Johnston surrendered all of the Confederate
forces east of the Chattahoochee river ; and the next day
General Grant returned to Washington without having
announced his presence to the army, and without his
presence being known in the camp of the enemy.

Now. according to immemorial custom, Sherman's
victorious legions should have been drawn up in line
with sounding trumpet and waving plume, while the
captives should in that imposing presence, furl their flags
and ground their arms. But instead of this triumphant
pageant, the rebel army was permitted to furl its ill-
starred banners and lay down its arms in the seclusion of
its own camp, and there was neither blare of band nor
peal of cannon heard in the quarters of the Federal army.
But as soon as the result became known, the gray and
the blue were seen drinking from the same canteen and
eating from the same haversack.

The duty of receiving the arms and munitions of war,
and of issuing paroles to the officers and men of the Con-
federate army, was assigned to General Schofield, and
the Twenty-third army corps, commanded by General
Cox, was advanced to the vicinity of Greensboro, then
the county-seat of Guilford county, where that duty was

Online LibraryHenry J. AtenHistory of the Eighty-fifth regiment, Illinois volunteer infantry → online text (page 19 of 37)