21st Illinois soldier writes about action at Franklin, great detail

Following letter was written by Abbott A. Lemaster who enlisted at age 27 from Palestine, Illinois.

CRAWFORD COUNTY ARGUS DECEMBER 22, 1864

FROM THE 21st ILLS. V. V. NASHVILLE,TENN

DEC.6,1864

Friend Harper: Knowing those who have friends and relatives in the old 21st would like to hear of their whereabouts, and what they are doing, I improve this opportunity of doing so, provided you give room in the Argus for the letter.

At present we are about a mile south of Nashville, just inside the first line of works. We have a nice place to camp, but we are rather uncomfortably situated on account of the scarcity of wood, something we stand in great need of, as it is quite cool here now.

We reached here the 1st inst. about noon, and I suppose the men generally felt considerably relieved. I know I did, for we had been marching night and day for eight days, our rear guard skirmishing all the way from Pulaski (which we left the 23rd of November) until we reached Franklin the 30th. There we had a regular pitched battle lasting five hours, of which I will now attempt to give a short description.

During the night of the 29th, we fell back from Columbia to Franklin. The enemy followed right up, and by ten o’clock A.M. we could see the “Johnnies” advancing in two heavy lines. We immediately formed our lines and breastworks. Pretty soon skirmishing commenced, and by the middle of the afternoon they crowded our lines viciously and at 3 1/2 P.M. made a desperate attack on our right and center, forcing our lines to the breastworks, which were thrown up from river to river, in an open field on the Columbia pike, which runs through the center of Franklin.

General Schofield commanded in the field, Stanley on the right, and Cox; of the 23rd corps, on the left.

At least one-half of the rebels engaged endeavored to pierce our center, and came down heavy on Wagner’s division, which after desperate fighting, gave way, and Maney’s division of Frank Cheatham’s corps got inside our works and captured two guns. Our center was not broken, however, and, better still, Gen. Wagner successfully rallied his troops who charged upon the enemy, recaptured the two guns, and forced the division over the breastworks, capturing an entire brigade and its commander. At half past four the battle raged with unabated fury, the enemy having made during one short half hour four attempts to break our center. Our position was a magnificent one; and the result of these four charges was magnificently grand. All the while the rebels operated in force upon our right, the rebel programme being to pierce our center and crush our right. Before dark, although but a portion of our infantry were engaged, three fourths of our artillery were playing upon the rebel column, who stood their ground like madmen.

During all the charges that were made upon our right and center, volleys of grape and cannister were hurled into their lines, and only darkness prevented their sacrifice being more awful. They fought so desperately that the rebel muskets were often thrust through the parapet and head log.

The firing in front of our division was not so severe, the rebels charging but twice. By dark they were repulsed, but the firing did not cease till nearly nine.

At least five thousand rebels were killed, wounded and captured, while our own loss will probably reach fifteen hundred. We captured seventeen rebel battle flags; some regiments, among which was the 11th Ohio, capturing a half dozen apiece. Gen. D.S. Stanley was slightly wounded in the back of the neck, but did not leave the field until the fight was over.

The rebel Gen. Adams was killed, and he and his horse fell into the ditch together in front of the 104th Ohio. Seventeen distinct attacks of the enemy-some of them feints, but mostly real were repulsed.

One man was killed and one wounded from our regiment.

We have beat the last retreat, and if old Hood wants us he will have to come and take us.

Our regiment is in a healthy condition. The boys of company I are generally well.

Respectfully yours
A.A. Lemaster

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