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I just discovered an auction lot being offered by Cowan’s with items belonging to Daniel H. McArthur, 24th WI Infantry and later in the Signal Corps. While in the Signal Corps later in the war he passed through Nashville in early December, which would have been just after the Battle of Franklin. He records the following in a letter about what he saw in Nashville:
You who are in your comfortable homes in the north can form but a small idea of the amount of suffering caused by the war aside from the soldier’s life. In this town are hundreds of families (refugees) who have no place to live except in the tents furnished them by the government and they all draw rations just the same as the soldiers. A great many of them are women with children whose husbands and other friends are dead or in the rebel army. One night week before last it was very cold, and a train came in loaded with refugees and they had no place to go to for shelter from the cold and there was seven children froze to death, and who knows at this moment how much suffering there is in different parts of the south!
What must have it been like to have been able to sit down with a first-hand participant of the Battle of Franklin, within minutes after the battle, and to get his observations? Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine. All we need to do is to read the authentic accounts from those who lived through it themselves to know. One such lucky soldier was Lee Ewing from the 63rd Indiana Infantry.
It is these kind of first-hand accounts that far surpass accounts recorded in official reports, newspapers, and post-war recollections (some decades later).
Captain Addison Lee Ewing (Co I, 63rd Indiana) was on the far left Union flank at Franklin, serving in Stiles’ Brigade. I have blogged on Ewing many times in the past. Ewing was from Haubstadt, Indiana – near Evansville – and served throughout the entire war. He kept a personal diary faithfully, recording his observations and reflections every day. He also wrote home a lot.
Several years ago I was very fortunate to acquire a large collection of personal letters and documents that belonged to Ewing. I say fortunate, because there were many times when his personal papers and correspondence, that he kept with him while in the field, was nearly lost or destroyed. I have three dozen or so letters by him and numerous documents like muster in/out rolls.
I also have a copy of his entire war time diary. His current living descendants have been most gracious and magnanimous in providing me access and info on their ancestor.
I have examined and studied Ewing’s diary entries and letter content in which he specifically commented or described what took place at Franklin (30 Nov 1864) from his perspective. For our purposes here I have distilled my comments by using a simple web tool called TagCloud to determine what words (or word clusters) were most prominent in Ewing’s diary and letters as he was commenting on his experience at Franklin. One of the key values of this type of analysis is that it is fresh, unfiltered and as authentic as it gets. Ewing recorded nearly 1,000 words related to his account and observations of the Battle of Franklin.
The main word cluster or semantic domain for Ewing was line or works. This makes perfect sense. The 63rd Indiana was on the far left Union flank, as one can see on the map. They were sandwiched between the 128th and 120th Indiana Infantries, respectively. All part of Stiles’ Brigade, these Hoosier boys protected the far left Union flank, buttressed up against the railroad track and the Harpeth River. Stiles’ men would be assaulted by Loring’s Division, hundreds of Confederates from Scott’s and Featherston’s Brigades.
When Ewing and his men first arrived in Franklin in the early morning hours of the 30th he says that, “We drew rations and made coffee and was lined up in position where we proceeded to throw up temporary works as we often had done.” Part of that temporary works, besides typical head logs, was the resourceful use of osage orange branches along this line. Osage orange branches are very hard and prickly. They were often used as natural “barbed wire” for fencing and containing cattle at the time. Ewing continues, “Our lines was extended from the Harpeth River above town to the river just below, and of a horse-shoe shape.”
Several hours before the battle started (about 4pm on the 30th), Ewing and several of his men were placed several hundred yards in front of the main federal line on picket duty. Ewing wrote in his diary on the 30th, “Myself and company however were placed out on picket and had dug some rifle pits to spend the night.” However, the skirmishers of the 63rd Indiana did not have the opportunity to engage in typical pre-battle skirmishing action, as Ewing recounts, “There was no skirmishing by us, for the Rebs formed two lines of battle and came dashing out of the woods in fine style, a skirmish line in front and one in the rear. I yelled to my skirmish line to fall back to the works and started myself.”
It probably took between 15-20 minutes for Loring’s men to reach the Federal position where Stiles’ men were. Four Federal infantry units under Israel Stiles awaited the advance from Scott’s and Featherston’s units. Ewing and his men made it back behind their works before the first Confederate charge from Scott-Featherston took place. Ewing describes the exact moment when that clash between the two armies took place, “When the advancing line came up within range the infantry behind the works, a sheet of flame leaped forth with death and wounds in it for hundreds of the brave men fighting for an ignoble cause.”
What took place for the next 3-4 hours in this area of the field can hardly be described as anything short of hellish. But let Ewing’s words serve as an authentic account of what took place, “The whole scene of action was soon covered with smoke that but little could be seen in detail. For about a dozen times the Rebs was led to charge, only to be repulsed with great slaughter. Many of their banners were planted upon our works with the most heroic determination but was met with as determined resistance.”
Pvt. Albert Swap, 7th Illinois Cavalry, Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 30, 1864, reading, in part:
“…you said you suppose Chas Dewey would arrive before I received this message of yours, so he did, but I regret to say he is among the missing on our trip to this place. We left Memphis on the 17th and was 9 days on the River there was several men drowned before we arrived at his place and C. L. D. and John R. Chapman of Co. are among the missing. The last I saw of them was about two miles above New Madrid, Mo….It has now been 62 days since the Regt. went out on this scout, they are now about 40 miles from this place at Columbia where they are having some very hard fighting with Hood’s Army. Genl. Thomas is out there with two corps of Infantry but the rebs still drive him back. We could hear very heavy cannonading in that direction for about an hour this morning. There is going to be some very hard fighting about this city in a short time if they keep driving our men back. We are camped about two miles from the city and they are going to move us in towards the city as they think we are exposed to a raid from the Lebanon Pike…There is considerable excitement here today the Rebel General Hood is still driving our men they are now within 20 miles of this place. Some of our men who have come from the front seem to think that Genl. Thomas is falling back to get the rebels where he can gain some advantage over them while others seem to think they are two strong for us, if the latter there will be some hard fighting and then we will either have to fall back or be gobbled but we must always look on the bright side of everything…But alas how many of our Brave soldiers are falling hourly as I am penning you these poor lines, the sullen booming of the cannon that I can hear very plainly speaks of death…to the soldier…”.
From Raynor’s auction
My Dear Wife,
Day before yesterday I commenced a letter to you but it was so cold yesterday and this morning that I didn’t get it finished for this morning’s mail. But I have just got yours of Dec 4th and glad to hear from you as I always am, but when the interval between letters gets long as was the case this time I get anxious. You had evidently not got the two or three letters I have written since the Franklin battle. Yes I was there in command of our Brigade skirmish line when the battle commenced. But our Heavenly Father has spared me through another fierce conflict where many fell, more worthy than I. It is impossible for me to give you any real idea of the fierceness of the charge of the Rebbles. Or the gallantry with which it was met by the boys in blue. You will find by perusing my journals many little insights of a soldier’s life which I do not give in letters. I hope you will not give it to others to read and criticize nor criticize it too closely yourself, for I know you will make many allowances when I come to tell you the circumstances under which it was written during a ceaseless nine month’s campaign.
I am glad that the poor of Evansville are so well remembered by the farmers of Vanderburgh. I shall always be a friend to the poor. Got the coat and it is generally admired by the Officers for its beauty and fineness, though it doesn’t fit as well as military rules would prescribe. However you can judge some by the enclosed photos how it makes me look. The package sent by Tom I haven’t yet received, but I will get it I suppose. Don’t bother about the gold pen.
Mrs Harris must have a very interesting time. Well don’t let her get mad at you. She spoke very highly of you and Mother Eaton in her letter. I wish you had some pleasant companion until I get home, but then you have peaceable neighbors who will I hope afford you protection. As to my coming home Christmas don’t you flatter yourself up so much a belief and then suffer a terrible disappointment, for there is no certainty at what time I can get to come home but I hope to see you sometime this winter. But it will depend a great deal on what the Rebs will do and how the weather is for campaigning. This has been a terrible cold day and I have lain under my blankets all day. But I hope you will plenty of wood and coal to keep you and Baby comfortable all the winter long. Write soon to your affectionate one, Lee
Source: The Kraig McNutt Civil War Collection, Copyright 2012
Dec 3rd, 1864
There is a mail going out in a few minutes and I must write a few lines to tell you of my safety. You have heard of the fight at Franklin day before yesterday and will be anxious to hear particulars.
I was sent with several others of the Co. after rations about an hour before the charge was made and the fight was almost over before we could get to our works. Tho we started immediately, I tell you, it was a hard battle but our boys stood their ground like heroes, tho a part of the 4th Corps left their works which almost lost the day for us. Our Corps has now, at last, a name which we may be proud of. The enemy’s loss was awful, you can have no idea of it unless you could see the field. The nearest fighting in our Brigade line was directly in front of our Co. We were the left center Co., next to the Colors, and they seemed determined to capture them, but our boys stuck to them. The rebels came up on to our works, some of them jumping clear over them. The ditch in front was piled with dead and wounded and for rods in front, a man could hardly put his foot down without stepping on them. Our loss was comparatively slight, 5 wounded in our Co . . . .
We don’t fear the enemy here. We are well fixed.
Source: (p. 125)
“Burning Rails as We Pleased”: The Civil War Letters of of William Garrigues Bentley, 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. McFarland, 2011.