Saturday, December 13, 2014

150-years-ago -- The Battle of Nashville, Tennessee, Dec. 15-16, 1864.

[Excerpted from Company Aytch, Maury Grays, First Tennesse Regiment, or A Sideshow of the Big, by Sam R. Watkins, Columbia, Tenn. 1900]  

Pvt. Sam Watkins, Co. H, 1st Tenn. Inf.

      A few more scenes, my dear friends, and we close these
memoirs. We march toward the city of Nashville. We camp
the first night at Brentwood. The next day we can see the fine
old building of solid granite, looming up on Capitol Hill the
capitol of Tennessee. We can see the Stars and Stripes flying
from the dome. Our pulse leaps with pride when we see the
grand old architecture. We can hear the bugle call, and the
playing of the bands of the different regiments in the Federal
lines. Now and then a shell is thrown into our midst from
Fort Negley, but no attack or demonstrations on either side.
We bivouac on the cold and hard-frozen ground, and when we walk about, the echo of our footsteps sound like the echo of a  tombstone. The earth is crusted with snow, and the wind from the northwest is piercing our very bones. We can see our ragged soldiers, with sunken cheeks and famine-glistening eyes. Where were our generals? Alas! there were none. Not one
single general out of Cheatham s division was left not one.
      General B. F. Cheatham himself was the only surviving general
of his old division. Nearly all our captains and colonels were
gone. Companies mingled with companies, regiments with
regiments, and brigades with brigades. A few raw-boned horses
stood shivering under the ice-covered trees, nibbling the short,
scanty grass. Being in range of the Federal guns from Fort
Negley, we were not allowed to have fires at night, and our thin
and ragged blankets were but poor protection against the cold,
raw blasts of December weather the coldest ever known. The
cold stars seem to twinkle with unusual brilliancy, and the pale
moon seems to be but one vast heap of frozen snow, which
glimmers in the cold gray sky, and the air gets colder by its coming ;
our breath, forming in little rays, seems to make a thousand
little coruscations that scintillate in the cold frosty air. I can tell
you nothing of what was going on among the generals. But
there we were, and that is all that I can tell you. One morning
about daylight our army began to move. Our division was then
on the extreme right wing, and then we were transferred to the
left wing. The battle had begun. We were continually
moving to our left. We would build little temporary breastworks,
then we would be moved to another place. Our lines kept on
widening out, and stretching further and further apart, until it
was not more than a skeleton of a skirmish line from one end to
the other. We started at a run. We cared for nothing. Not
more than a thousand yards off, we could see the Yankee cavalry,
artillery, and infantry, marching apparently still further to our
left. We could see regiments advancing at double-quick across
the fields, while, with our army, everything seemed confused.
The private soldier could not see into things. It seemed to be
somewhat like a flock of wild geese when they have lost their
leader. We were willing to go anywhere, or to follow anyone
who would lead us. We were anxious to flee, fight, or fortify.
I have never seen an army so confused and demoralized. The
whole thing seemed to be tottering and trembling. When,
Halt! Front! Right dress! and Adjutant McKinney reads
the following order :

     "Soldiers: The commanding general takes pleasure in
announcing to his troops that victory and success are now within
their grasp; and the commanding general feels proud and
gratified that in every attack and assault the enemy have been
repulsed; and the commanding general will further say to his
noble and gallant troops, Be of good cheer all is well.

"KINLOCK FALCONER, "General Commanding.
"Acting Adjutant-General."

       I remember how this order was received. Every soldier
said, "O, shucks ; that is all shenanigans for we knew that we
had never met the enemy or fired a gun outside of a little
skirmishing. And I will further state that that battle order,
announcing success and victory, was the cause of a greater
demoralization than if our troops had been actually engaged in battle.
They at once mistrusted General Hood’s judgment as a
commander. And every private soldier in the whole army knew
the situation of affairs. I remember when passing by Hood,
how feeble and decrepit he looked, with an arm in a sling, and a
crutch in the other hand, and trying to guide and control his
horse. And, reader, I was not a Christian then, and am but
little better to-day; but, as God sees my heart to-night, I prayed
in my heart that day for General Hood. Poor fellow, I loved
him, not as a General, but as a good man. I knew when that
army order was read, that General Hood had been deceived, and
that the poor fellow was only trying to encourage his men.
Every impulse of his nature was but to do good, and to serve his
country as best he could. Ah ! reader, some day all will be well.
       We continued marching toward our left, our battle-line
getting thinner and thinner. We could see the Federals
advancing, their blue coats and banners flying, and could see
their movements and hear them giving their commands. Our
regiment was ordered to double quick to the extreme left
wing of the army, and we had to pass up a steep hill, and
the dead grass was wet and as slick as glass, and it was with
the greatest difficulty that we could get up the steep hill
side. When we got to the top, we, as skirmishers, were ordered
to deploy still further to the left. Billy Carr and J. E. Jones,
two as brave soldiers as ever breathed the breath of life in fact,
it was given up that they were the bravest and most daring men
in the Army of Tennessee and myself ; were on the very
extreme left wing of our army. While we were deployed as
skirmishers, I heard, "Surrender, surrender," and on looking
around us, I saw that we were right in the midst of a Yankee
line of battle. They were lying down in the bushes, and we
were not looking for them so close to us. We immediately
threw down our guns and surrendered. J. E. Jones was killed
at the first discharge of their guns, when another Yankee raised
up and took deliberate aim at Billy Carr, and fired, the ball
striking him below the eye and passing through his head. As
soon as I could, I picked up my gun, and as the Yankee turned
I sent a minnie ball crushing through his head, and broke and
run. But I am certain that I killed the Yankee who killed
Billy Carr, but it was too late to save the poor boy’s life. As I
started to run, a fallen dogwood tree tripped me up, and I fell
over the log. It was all that saved me. The log was riddled
with balls, and thousands, it seemed to me, passed over it. As
I got up to run again, I was shot through the middle finger of
the very hand that is now penning these lines, and the thigh.
But I had just killed a Yankee, and was determined to get
away from there as soon as I could. How I did get back I
hardly know, for I was wounded and surrounded by Yankees.
One rushed forward, and placing the muzzle of his gun in two
feet of me, discharged it, but it missed its aim, when I ran at
him, grabbed him by the collar, and brought him off a prisoner.
Captain Joe P. Lee and Colonel H. R. Field remember this, as
would Lieutenant-Colonel John L. House, were he alive; and
all the balance of Company H, who were there at the time. I
had eight bullet holes in my coat, and two in my hand, beside
the one in my thigh and finger. It was a hail storm of bullets.
The above is true in every particular, and is but one incident of
the war, which happened to hundreds of others. But, alas! all
our valor and victories were in vain, when God and the whole
world were against us.
       Billy Carr was one of the bravest and best men I ever
knew. He never knew what fear was, and in consequence of
his reckless bravery, had been badly wounded at Perryville.
Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, the octagon house, Dead Angle,
and the 22nd of July at Atlanta. In every battle he was
wounded, and finally, in the very last battle of the war, surrendered
up his life for his country s cause. No father and mother
of such a brave and gallant boy, should ever sorrow or regret
having born to them such a son. He was the flower and
chivalry of his company. He was as good as he was brave. His
bones rest yonder on the Overton hills to-day, while I have no
doubt in my own mind that his spirit is with the Redeemer of
the hosts of heaven. He was my friend. Poor boy, farewell!
When I got back to where I could see our lines, it was one
scene of confusion and rout. Finney s Florida brigade had
broken before a mere skirmish line, and soon the whole army
had caught the infection, had broken, and were running in every
direction. Such a scene I never saw. The army was panic stricken.
The woods everywhere were full of running soldiers.
Our officers were crying, "Halt ! halt !" and trying to rally and
re-form their broken ranks. The Federals would dash their
cavalry in amongst us, and even their cannon joined in the
charge. One piece of Yankee artillery galloped past me, right
on the road, unlimbered their gun, fired a few shots, and galloped
ahead again.
       Hood’s whole army was routed and in full retreat. Nearly
every man in the entire army had thrown away his gun and
accouterments. More than ten thousand had stopped and allowed
themselves to be captured, while many, dreading the horrors
of a Northern prison, kept on, and I saw many, yea, even
thousands, broken down from sheer exhaustion, with despair
and pity written on their features. Wagon trains, cannon,
artillery, cavalry, and infantry were all blended in inextricable
confusion. Broken down and jaded horses and mules refused
to pull, and the badly-scared drivers looked like their eyes would
pop out of their heads from fright. Wagon wheels, interlocking
each other, soon clogged the road, and wagons, horses and
provisions were left indiscriminately. The officers soon became
effected with the demoralization of their troops, and rode on in
dogged indifference. General Frank Cheatham and General
Lor ing tried to form a line at Brentwood, but the line they
formed was like trying to stop the current of Duck river with a
fish net. I believe the army would have rallied, had there been
any colors to rally to. And as the straggling army moves on
down the road, every now and then we can hear the sullen roar
of the Federal artillery booming in the distance. I saw a
wagon and team abandoned, and I unhitched one of the horses
and rode on horse-back to Franklin, where a surgeon tied up my
broken finger, and bandaged up my bleeding thigh. My boot
was full of blood, and my clothing saturated with it. I was at
General Hood s headquarters. He was much agitated and af
fected, pulling his hair with his one hand (he had but one),
and crying like his heart would break. I pitied him, poor fellow.
I asked him for a wounded furlough, and he gave it to
me. I never saw him afterward. I always loved and honored
him, and will ever revere and cherish his memory. He gave
his life in the service of his country, and I know to-day he wears
a garland of glory beyond the grave, where Justice says "well
done, and Mercy has erased all his errors and faults.
I only write of the under strata of history; in other words,
the privates history as I saw things then, and remember them