John K. Duke.

History of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men online

. (page 11 of 24)
Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 11 of 24)
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the Tennessee River. We could hear cannonading to the front
and right of us, and the large numbers of the dead and wounded
carried to the rear through our lines as we were following after
Bragg, indicated that General Davis was harassing the fleeing
enemy and that General Bragg's forces were doing some effective
work in return. We had now, November 27th, started in pursuit
of Bragg, but eventually were ordered to the relief of Burnside at
Knoxville, whom General Longstreet had surrounded, or nearly
so, cutting off his communications. This arduous task was as-


signed principally to the 15tli Army Corps, nnder the leadership
of General Sherman. We were pnt in light marching order,
abandoning all useless baggage, leaving even our knapsacks be-
hind, and taking only things absolutely necessary, (zeneral
Sherman says, "We marched out with two days' rations, with a
change of clothing, stripped for the fight or march, with but a
single blanket or coat per man, from myself to the private in-
cluded. We little dreamed that this would perhaps be one of
the most arduous campaigns of the war, but such was our fate, as
will be found by following our numerous marches up to Knox-
ville and the return to Chattanooga.

As we continued our pursuit of Bragg everything along the
line indicated heavy fighting. Reaching Graysville on the
Western Atlantic Railway, we camped for the night. The pris-
oners and wounded were brought in all night long. The total
number of prisoners coi railed during the night near the camp was

On the morning of the 28th we engaged in the pastime of
burning a mill and a machine shop at Graysville. We then
marched out on the railroad leading to Ringgold, tore up the
track for several miles, burning the ties and capturing some cars.
We loaded our wounded and sick aboard the cars, and the boys
then pushed the cars to Graysville, to which place our brigade
returned and camped for the night. It was very cold, so much
so that the boys could not rest, they were compelled to move
about to keep up a circulation.

On Sunday November 28th, we marched 21 miles upon
empty stomachs, there being no rations. We camped for the
night one mile from Cleveland. On November 30th our wing of
the army marched to Salton, destroying the railroad as it pro-
ceeded This section of Tennessee was extra good. The pop-
ulation was fairly loyal. We camped near Charleston. We were
still without hardtack.


Early on the morning of December 1st, the Tennessee valley
resounded with huzzahs from the Yankee throats at the glimpse of
our wagon train. Many a one with tears in his e\es, reverently
looked up and thanked the God of battles for the kindness, hard-
tack, coffee, etc., included. The rations were issued, breakfast was
had, after which, at 11 a. m., the army proceeded upon the line of
march, singing, "We are coming Father Abraham six hundred
thousand strong. " We passed through Charleston and Calhoun.
The Hiawatha River divides this town. Continuing our march,
we passed through Riceville and camped, after marching sixteen
miles during the day.

On the morning of December 2nd we passed through Athens,
the county seat of McMinn Couuty. This was a town of consid-
erable dimensions, with good public buildings, churches, and
school-houses. A short distance from the town we came upon a
force of the enemy's cavalry and had a brisk skirmish. We held
them at bay until our own cavalry pushed on ahead of us and kept
the enemy so busy that they were glad to beat a retreat. We
passed through the town of Sweet Water and camped near Phila-
delphia, Tennessee, after having marched 20 miles. On the morn-
ing of the 3rd we passed through Philadelphia. This town was
noted for its large springs, affording sufficient water-power for
manufacturing purposes. Our army proceeded on to Morganton,
crossing the Holston River after night. We went into camp after
having marched 10 miles.

On the morning of the 4th we moved out about one mile and
camped. The remainder of the day was occupied in bridging the
river. To assist us in bridge-building we were compelled to tear
down some fine residences. We were now plainly in sight of
Smoky Mountain and Blue Ridge.

We marched at daylight on the 5th, passing through Marys-
ville, Blount County. The women in the village were intensely
loyal, shouting, weeping, and praying at our approach. After hav-
ing marched eighteen miles we went into camp.


December 6th was Sunday, and for once in a long time it was
observed as a day of rest, save and except that the boys took oc-
casion to wash clothes and body, thus destroying — well, we will
not mention what. The divisions of Generals Wood and Sheri-
dan, of Thomas' army, came np with us and we camped within
some fifteen miles of Knoxville, and near the rear of Longstreet's
army. On the morning of the 7th there was rejoicing in our
camp, for news was received that Longstreet, at the approach of
our advance, had silently folded his tent during the night and was
retreating southward, thus relieving General Burnside at Knox-
ville. General Burnside had been shut up from the base of his
supplies for weeks, and General Grant and those in authority had
been very anxious as to his safety : yet we were somewhat surpris-
ed to find a large stock of cattle and some rations at hand when
our forces came up to Knoxville.

This campaign having relieved the siege of Knoxville, upon
consultation with General Burnside, General Sherman decided that
it was best for our army to retrace its steps and return to Chatta-
nooga, which we did, over almost the same route.

Upon our first day's march towards Chattanooga we made
eighteen miles and camped near Morganton. On the morning of
the 8th we crossed the river at Morganton, marching ten miles,
and camped. On December 9th we marched ten miles to Madison-
ville and camped. On the 10th we proceeded on our line of march
and moved some fourteen miles, camping at Athens. The next
day, the 11th, we remained in camp and rested; but on the 12th
we broke camp early and moved but a short distance and camped.
During the 13th we remained quiet, but early on the morning of
the 14th we took up our line of march and proceeded some fifteen
miles, camping for the night at Charleston. During the loth we
passed the 11th Army Corps, marched ten miles and camped near
Cleveland. On the morning of the 16th we got up drenched with
rain and marched fourteen miles, soaked to the hide ; and did not
go into camp, owing to the bad roads and weather, until 9 p. m.


Near nightfall of December 17th we camped near Chatta-
nooga. All of onr regiment, and that was a fair sample of the
corps, did not reach camp until during the day of the 19th. All
of the army was suffering more or less, and this suffering was be-
yond any description by the author. Hundreds of officers and
men, owing to the long and severe march from Memphis, Tenne-
ssee, to Knoxville and return, were without pants or shoes, with
bleeding feet — the marks of blood being plainly visible wherever
they stepped. Sixty of our own regiment were in that condition ;
ragged, hungry, and emaciated the corps came to Chattanooga and
on to camp at Bridgeport, where they had hopes of getting cloth-
ing, or at least something palatable to eat. It was no unusual
occurrence to see our poor boys eating corn which the mules had
refused, that is, the mules would get it tramped in the mud and
then refuse to eat it. Our boys would resurrect, wash and parch
it, and then eat it with a keen relish, thanking his muleship for
the repast.

Quite a number of the shoeless and destitute soldiers were
provided with pontoon boats to float down the river from Chatta-
nooga to Bridgeport, but from the account they gave when they
reached their destination, it is fair to believe that they suffered
more intensely from cold and hardship than those who marched

The condition of the men was such as to elicit the sympathy
of the officers. When the command was given to return to Chat-
tanooga General Jones, looking at his men and their condition,
said : " Boys, it is not possible for us to get anything for you in
the way of clothing or shoes until we reach Chattanooga, and for
rations we will be compelled to live off the country. I want to
say to you boys who have no shoes, if you meet any citizens, black
or white, with shoes on, make them take them off and give them
to you."

The march from Memphis to Mission Ridge and Knoxville
and back to Bridgeport was the longest consecutive march of a


larw^e body of troops during the war. That part of it in East Ten-
nessee was of nnequaled severity. They marched some 100 miles
in five days.

General Howard, in his speech at the celebration of the
Christian Commission, related the followinj*^ little occurrence after
the battle of Chattanooga, " My corps, with Sherman's," said he,
" had been in pursuit of the enemy for three days. We had
marched nearly one hundred and twenty miles, and then marched
back again. The result of it was, that our clothes and our shoes
were worn out ; the men had scarcely any blankets to cover them,
or pants to wear. They were toiling along on their journey home.
Just as we had passed through the mountain ridge, the division
commander, thinking that the men had marched far enough for
one day, put them comfortably into camp, told them to make their
coffee, and then sent word to me to know if they had permission
to remain there during the night. It was raining hard, very hard.
It was a severe storm. But I knew the position was an improper
one. It was not the fulfillment of my orders. I sent back word,
' No ; march forward to Tuugston's Station, March ! ' It was
dark ; it was cold ; it was stormy. The poor men had to be turned
out once more, to march. Notwithstanding their labor, notwith-
standing their toil and fatigue, they marched, ' What did they
do ? How did they take it ? ' do you ask. They took it as I hope
you will take my speech. They went singing along the route —
noble, patient fellows ! — without a complaining word, "

Nor was the terrible march, amid such unspeakable suffering,
without its enlivening and mirth-provoking incidents, of which
the following is a specimen :

The troops from the army of the Potomac, sent to join the
army of the Cumberland, carried with them various ornamental
habits and customs that were new to the Western soldiers. Among
them was the corps badge, which designated the corps to which
officers and men were attached. For instance, the badge of the
Eleventh corps was a crescent, that of the Twelfth a star. The


badge is made of any material — gold, silver, or red flannel — and is
worn conspicuously on some part of the clothing. The western
corps had no such badge. It is related that a soldier, an Irishman
by birth, a tired, weather-beaten straggler, came by the headquar-
ters of General Butterfield. He was one of those who made Sher-
man's march from Memphis to Chattanooga, thence to Knoxville,
and was now returning, in the terrible cold of that wintry march,
thinly clad, one foot covered with a badly worn army shoe, the
other with a piece of raw-hide bound with strings about a sockless
foot — both feet cut and bleeding. " Arms at will, " he trudged
past headquarters' guard, intent only upon overtaking his regi-

" Halt ! " cried a sentinel with a bright piece, clean uniform,
and white gloves. " What do you belong to ? "

" Eighth Misshoory, sure. "

" What division ? "

" Morgan L. Smith's, av coorse. "

" What brigade ? "

" Giles Smith's Second Brigade of the Second Division. "

" But what army corps ? "

" The Fifteenth, you fool. I am one of the heroes of Vicks-
burg. Anything more, Mr. Sentinel?"

" Where is your badge? "

" Me badge, is it ? What is that ? "

" Do you see this star on my cap ? That is the badge of the
Twelfth Corps. That crescent on my partner's cap is the badge
of the Eleventh Corps."

" I see now. That's how yez Potomick fellers gits home uv
dark nights. Ye takes the moon and sthars wid ye. "

" But what is the badge of your corps? "

Making a round about, and slapping his cartridge-box, our
soldier replied, '* D'ye see that? A cartridge-box, with a U.S.
on a brash plate, and forty rounds in the cartridge-box, and sixty
in our pockets. That's the badge of the Fifteenth, that came
from Vicksburg to help ye fight Chattanoogy. "



From December 17th up to and including December 22nd
we remained in camp with nothing occurring worthy of note.
On the night of the 23d of December, however, we were called up
at the hour of midnight and paid, the first time for several
months. During the day of the 24th we moved our camp to
Stevenson. It was a cheerless Christmas eve to most of us. Pay
day had not reached us in time for our remittance to cheer and
brighten the hearts of our loved ones at the North, but the out-
iroine mail carried hundreds of dollars northward.

Christmas was cold and dreary. There was no opportunity
to buy or forage a good Christmas dinner, so we contented our-
selves with army rations, sweetening the same with the reflection
that our loved ones far to the rear, if they were being served with
turkey and accompaniments, were only half enjoying the repast,
for we well knew their aching hearts were far away to the front
with those they cherished and loved.

My own mother, of blessed memory, said to me after my re-
turn home, "My son, after I had given thanks for each meal, be-
fore I could eat a morsel of food I involuntarily but mentally
asked the question, 'Where, oh where is my boy ? Has he any-
thing to eat?' and then involuntarily, prayed God to grant him
subsistence, and that he might be spared the suffering of rebel

December 26th we marched some 17 miles to Scottsboro,
Ala., and took up our winter quarters. On the morning of the
27th the rain was descending by the bucketful and we had no


shelter. Notwithstanding this downpour we laid off our camp.
It rained continuously throughout the day. The wagon trains
came up, but our blankets and provisions were saturated.

From the 26th to the 8 1st we were engaged in building our
winter quarters. Our camp lay at the base of the mountain along
the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. This mountain was cover-
ed with a growth of cedar, and this we utilized for our winter
quarters and for firewood. Those who have not been thrown en-
tirely upon their own resources away from civilization can
scarcely conceive of how soon an army of several thousand men
can make themselves comfortable. Most of our rooms were of
good construction and convenient.

On December 31st, or as some claim, January 1st, 1864.
the order of the War Department was read to us, asking us for
re-enlistments, or as it was termed, to veteranize. As an induce-
ment for re-enlistment for another three years, or during the war,
a thirty days' furlough was guaranteed.

On January 4th great excitement prevailed throughout the
various camps, re-enlistments being the occasion. Our own regi-
ment was drawn up in hollow square and addressed by our gal-
lant commander, Col. Wells S. Jones, exhorting all to enlist and
see the war to its conclusion. As a result there was a larger pro-
portion of the 53rd Ohio re-enlisted than of any other regiment
in the 15th coips. In fact, only five regiments surpassed it in
actual number of veterans, and they were all much larger regi-

The majority of each of the companies " veteraned " when
called upon, which, I think, is one of the most courageous things
they did. Men who had been engaged in war for three years,
whose time would soon expire, to re-enlist willingly for three years
more, or during the war, when they knew the danger and hard-
ships they would have to encounter, were certainly entitled to the
highest praise as soldiers and patriots.


The evidence is not at hand, if it is obtainable, as to who
originated the idea of having the seasoned soldiers extend the limit
of their services, bnt whoever it was is entitled to the gratitude of
the Nation, as it was undoubtedly the severest blow struck at the

A few months before this, a prisoner whom we had captured
told us that the opinion of the South was, that when the three-
years' term should expire, our men would refuse to re-enlist and
Lincoln could not get up another such an army, and the war would
cease ; that the men in service were tired. But when these men
'' veteraned ■' to the number of thousands it gave the lie to what
they had been saying. This did a great deal towards demoralizing
the South. One veteran is worth several recruits, as he knows
what to do and how to do it, and has the physical ability to do it.
But little of the soldier's time is spent in actual battle — it is getting

A Corporal of Co. D, whose name I have forgotten, a neat,
soldierly little fellow, was wounded in the Atlanta campaign and
did not go with the regiment to the sea, but went round by Wash-
ington to join us at Savannah. While at Washington he called on
President Lincoln. He presented himself at the White House,
and the usher asked him what he wanted. He said, " I want to
see the President." He gave his name, rank, and regiment. The
usher said he would see if the President would see him. President
Lincoln ordered that he be brought in, and he went in. :Mr. Lin-
coln asked him his name and regiment. He told him he was

Corporal , of the 5:3rd Ohio. The President asked him

some questions about the army. He then said : '' Corporal, are
you a veteran ? " " Yes, sir." " Well," said Mr. Lincoln, " next
to Mrs. Lincoln I think more of a veteran than of any one else in
the world."

On the evening of January 25th, 1864, the 53rd Ohio took the
train for Nashville, homeward bound upon veteran furlough. We
reached Nashville on the 27th, thence went to Cincinnati, Ohio,


where we separated for our various homes, much to our delight
and the semi-happiness of our families and friencls. [The word
"semi-happiness" is used advisedly.] Our friends were overjoyed
to see us, and everything was done for our comfort and enjoyment,
but behind this was a tinge of sorrow, for our friends well knew
our stay was a brief one at best ; and the second parting was the
occasion of more sorrow than the first.

On or about March 12th we again reassembled at Cincinnati
for the return to Scottsboro, reaching Nashville March 20th.
Here we remained two or three days, quartered in barracks, await-
ing transportation.

Considerable interest was manifested by the members of the
53rd Ohio in the former residence and tomb of ex-President James
K. Polk ; the tomb being in the yard of the residence. The resi-
dence was a commodious, two story brick, of the colonial type. It
stood upon a plat of several acres in about the center of the city of
Nashville. It was one of the landmarks of the city. The grounds
were well cared for and everything apparently in good shape. In
after years the tomb was removed from the residence to the
grounds of the State Capitol. The ex-president resided at his
home until the time of his death. It was his desire and request
that it should be the home of his wife during her lifetime, at her
death it was to pass to the most worthy of her relations ; and he
constituted the state of Tennessee trustee of the property, making
it the duty of the legislature to select the occupants. Upon
the death of Mrs. Polk the will was attacked by the heirs, on
the ground that it created a perpetuity and established a home of
nobility, neither of which was allowed under the statutes of the
state, and the will was set aside. This property has recently been
sold, and ere long the old landmarks will be obliterated.

On March 22nd orders were received for us to march to
Huntsville, Ala. We took up our line of march, passing through
Franklin, Columbia, Pulaski, and several smaller villages. At
Huntsville we were furnished transportation on to Scottsboro.
Here we remained in camp until May 1st.


chaptp:r XIII.


On our return from the veteran furlough to Scottsboro we had
little or no duty, excepting that of guard duty, and that principal-
ly guarding the railroad extending southward from Louisville,
Ky., to Nashville, Tenn., and from Nashville to Chatanooga. It
was an almost unbroken line of troops.

Du-ring these winter months, General William T. Sherman
was concentrating an army of about 100,000 seasoned veterans.
This aggregation of men was to move southward with the avowed
purpose of eventually taking possession of the city of Atlanta,
Cxcorgia. It was what has since passed into history as the Atlanta
Campaign. It was the most arduous, active campaign experienced
by the Army of the Southwest during the civil war, if not by
any army of the known world. This vast army was set in action
May 1st, 1804, and was composed as follows :

Army of the Cumberland, Major-General Thomas com-
manding :

Infantry 54,568

Artillery 2,377

Cavalry 3,828 — 60,773

Army of the Tennessee, Major-General McPherson, com-
manding :

Infantry 22,437

Artillerv 1,404

Cavalry 624— 24,485

Army of the Ohio, Major-General Schofield, commanding :

Infantry 11,183

Artillery 679

Cavalry 1,697—13,559

Including 254 cannon. 98,797


May 1st was Sabbath morning, and the historian, as he ap-
plied the torch to what had been his winter quarters and started
iipon the march, mentally compared that Sunday morning's work
with the duties at that hour, 9 a. m., which he had been accus-
tomed to at home, namely: attendance at Sunday school, and
afterwards at divine service ; and naturally queried, will the God
of Nations bless a cause which so flagrantly violates his holy day
by deliberately planning for a campaign to commence upon the
Sabbath ?

The first eight or ten days of this campaign were occupied
principally in marching, with nothing happening worthy of note.
A never-to-be-forgotten rain occurred on May 10th. The thunder
of our 254 cannon was not to be compared with the heavenly
artillery, and a downpour of several hours drenched the army to
the hide. We were then near the base of Johnston Mountain or
Sugar Valley. The narrator was upon picket that night, and an
amusing incident occurred : The picket line was really a skirmish
line, and we were posted behind trees and so near each other that
we could in an undertone converse, if we so desired. The enemy,
however, being so near in our front, we were exhorted to be cau-
tious. During the night a noise was heard approaching that re-
sembled a cavalryman cautiously feeling his way through the
underbrush. It was apparent soon that it was approaching near-
est the post of the writer, and he naturally felt his hair going up
on end and his slouch army hat leaving his head. The man upon
his right being one of his own company spoke to him and asked if
he heard the noise. The writer replied : " Yes, sir, and ready to
do my duty at the proper time." About this time the noise began
to veer to the left, and the hat gradually settled down again on his
head. As the thing was approaching nearest the post of a Ger-
man of the 37th Ohio, and being satisfied of this, the writer ad-
dressed the comrade and said : "37th, are you there?" He re-
plied, " Ja." But, in a moment his step was heard and it seemed
as if he was going to run, but he only left his post as far as he


dared, and then, in almost a whisper, said : " Say, o3-tiines, I
v/ish that was not me." So did we all.

At about this time our regiment was transferred from the 4th
Division, loth Army Corps to Morgan L. Smith, 2nd Divi.sion,
loth Army Corps, Lightburn's 2nd Brigade. We were not sub-
jected to any further change until final muster-out of service.

Strange as it may seem, the first antagonist we were called
upon to face, on May 13th, was our antagonist at Vicksburg, Lor-
ing's division of General Polk's corps. Although twelve to
fifteen 'months had passed, we had not forgotten each other, and
exchanged compliments with red-hot ounce Minie balls.

The army of the Tennessee had passed through Snake
Creek Gap and threatened the rear of the rebel army at Resaca.

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Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 11 of 24)