128th Indiana’s rare account at Franklin is riveting

Last September I blogged about the 128th Indiana’s position at Franklin, as our community was honored by true living Civil War son Harold Becker. The 128th Indiana straddled Lewisburg Pike as it was placed on the far right flank of Stiles’s brigade at Franklin. This map shows the position of several Indiana regiments at Franklin, including the 128th.

Thanks to an alert from a blog reader, I want to publish an old eyewitness, firsthand account of the action experienced by a member of the 128th Indiana at Franklin.
James G. Staley

Through the winter months and on into the spring of 1864, the enlistment for Company F of the One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Regiment continued. This company was enlisted mostly by Capt. James G. Staley,  Lieuts. W. C. Kent and Henry G. Bliss. The regiment rendezvoused at Michigan City. Captain Staley ‘s company was full about the middle of March, 1864. While yet at Camp Anderson, Michigan City, the members of this company purchased a fine sword which was formally presented to Captain Staley by the regimental chaplain, Rev. William P. Koutz, of Monticello.

Company V was the seventh and the last full company to be enlisted in White County for the three-years’ service. Its regiment was mustered into the service March 18, 1864, and first took the field at Nashville, Tennessee. In the Atlanta campaign it fought at Resaca, Dallas, New Hope Church, Lost .Mountain, Kenesaw Mountain, Atlanta and Jonesboro.   As part of Thomas’s army it joined in the pursuit of Hood, and at the hard-fought Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, its brave captain, James G. Staley, was killed.

One of Captain Staley’s comrades writes of his death and career as follows: “In the beginning of the war he responded to the call of our country and served faithfully as a member of the Ninth Indiana for more than two years, lie was commissioned captain of Company P, 128th Indiana, in January, 1864, and in March left the place of rendezvous with his regiment to take part in the memorable campaign of Atlanta. During that toilsome service of marching, digging, guarding, watching and lighting, lasting four months, without the soldiers being beyond the sound of musketry or artillery, lie nobly, patiently, heroically performed his part. On the 4th of October we left Decatur, Georgia, to begin the fall campaign, and after much skirmishing and marching several hundred miles in Georgia and Alabama, we reached Franklin, Tennessee, closely pressed by the enemy in superior force. It is not my purpose to give a description of the engagement, but I will state that the l28th Indiana occupied breastworks near the extreme left of our line; that the enemy charged right up to and planted their colors on our works, and that their dead and dying which filled the ditches, sufficiently proved how bloody and disastrous was their repulse.

“When the assault was made, Captain Staley was standing up watching the enemy and directing the fire and the use of the bayonets of his men. Just then Captain Bissell, of the same regiment, was shot through the head and fell against Lieutenant Bliss, who, with the assistance of Captain Staley, laid him upon the ground and planed a blanket under his head. This had’ scarcely been done when some one called out ‘They are coming; again,’ and all prepared to receive the enemy.  As Captain Staley turned to the works, a minie ball struck him in the forehead, and he, too, fell into the arms of Lieutenant Bliss and died almost instantly. There was no time then to listen to parting words. A desperate hand-to-hand conflict was straining every nerve for the possession of the works. The deadly musket shot, the clash of arms as bayonet came to bayonet and sword to sword, the hurried breathing of the men through their shut teeth, their words of encouragement and mutterings of vengeance, with the thunders of the two pieces of artillery that flanked the company, combined to bring into heroic exercise every muscle of the body and every power of the mind.

“Darkness came on and still the fighting continued. Every man was needed to repulse the desperate assaults of the enemy. The body of Captain Staley was carried to the rear by the stretcher corps and buried in the same grave with that of Captain Bissell, near the large brick dwelling house on the hill south of Franklin. This statement was made by Lieutenant Bliss. The grave where the heroes slept was left unmarked, but to have done otherwise was impossible. Though we had repulsed the rebel army, it was determined to withdraw under cover of darkness, and at midnight we retreated across Harpeth river and abandoned the battlefield and Franklin to the enemy.”

Captain Staley’s remains were recovered and brought home, through the efforts of the Christian Commission, arriving at Monticello on February 7, 1865, and on the 12th were reinterred with appropriate ceremonies.

This last of the long-term companies to be raised, as a whole, in White County, saw service after Captain Staley’s death at Nashville, in the later pursuit of Hood, at Newbern and Wise’s Fork, North Carolina, and
at other points marking the closing operations of the war. The regiment was not mustered out of the service until early in 1866.

Source:

Hamelle, William H.
A Standard History of White County, Indiana : an Authentic Narrative of the Past, with an Extended Survey of Modern Developments in the Progress of Town and Country (1915).  Chicago; New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1915.

p. 186

128th position Franklin by you.

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