Dec 7th, 1864 letter of William Garrigues Bentley, 104th Ohio

Dec. 7th, 1864
[Nashville]

Dear Bro,

I wrote . . . the other day after we reached this place but I was hurried so that I couldn’t write as much as I would have liked . . . .

I suppose you have heard the particulars of the Franklin fight by this time, as the papers of this place are full of it — but maybe you would like to hear the part that our Regiment took in it, so I will try to explain it. Tho I wasn’t in our works during the heaviest of the fight, as I stated before. I was sent back to draw rations but I saw it and I’m not particularly anxious to see such another battle, tho it was a great victory for us.

Gen Reilly’s Brigade was in position on the left of the Cumberland pike, our Regiment being 2nd in line on the right. We joined Gen Cooper’s 2nd Division, 23rd A.C. They connected with the 4th A.C. Col. Casement’s Brigade of our Division on our left. The enemy charged with 2 Divisions, Gen Cleburne of Hardee’s old Corps in our immediate front on the left of the pike. I forgot the name of the other General on the right, our skirmish line was about 1/4 mile in advance of the works, supported by Wagner’s Brigade of the 4th Co. The enemy advanced in two oblique lines, their left in our front — almost resting on our works, their right extended along the road joining on the right — which  was formed in the same manner except that on this side, their right was nearest our lines . . ..  They came up in splendid style, our artillery from across the river, throwing shell into their ranks without checking them in the least.  The Brigade of the 4th Corps were overpowered in a moment and came rushing back in the wildest confusion over our line  — almost breaking it.  The rebels kept close . . . on them, so that our men couldn’t fire until they were within a few yards.  When they did open on them, mowing them down by scores, we had several pieces of artillery in the line which poured grape and cannister into their ranks. At last, finding it too hot for them, they fell back one hundred yards, into a ravine, which they reformed and came up again. This time as steady as clock works. They charged right up to our ditch, many of them jumping over the boys heads. Some were shot while standing on the headlogs. Our Co. was the left-center of the Regiment and next to our colors and here the fighting was hottest. The line to our right was, at one time, driven back and the rebels came pouring over the works. I am proud to say, that not a man in Co. G flinched, tho every Co. to the right fell back. Gen.s Reilly, Cox and Schofield were in the most exposed places, trying to rally the men who had fallen back from a misunderstanding of orders. Up they went again, taking their old position and capturing many prisoners. Off to the right, the enemy held our line for sometime but after a desperate struggle, everything was retaken and the enemy fell back a short distance but still keeping up a heavy fire.  It was now dark and we expected another attack would be made but they had evidently had enough of it. After the firing had slackened the boys went out in front of the works to help any of our boys who were lying outside. Very few were wounded outside of the works, but you can’t imagine the appearance of the field. The ditch was literally piled with dead and wounded and for rods you could scarcely walk without stepping on a body. They laid in every position imaginable. Some were in the act of loading, some drawing the trigger. Our fire had been very effective, nearly all were struck below the breast. Several officers rode their horses right onto the works and horses & riders fell back into the ditch.

You can imagine how desperate the struggle was in front of our colors when 5 (stand0 of colors were captured in front of them, the color bearers were all killed. One of them planted his standing in our works and snatched at our colors which were floating there, but our color Sergeant was too quick for him, he pulled them off the works and the reb fell back dead. An officer, said to be Gen. Cleburne was killed in front of our Co. The rebels came over our works by scores, throwing down their guns, they were sent back to the rear and as men couldn’t well be spared just then to guard them, I suppose 1/2 of them made their escape as it was. We kept 1,700 of them, you may judge that they were terribly cut-up when after the fight was over several men came over the works with ammunition, expecting to find their men in possession, as they said, they didn’t meet any going back except a few stragglers. Officers, who were over the field after the fight estimate their loss in killed and wounded at from 500 to 600, which is a moderate estimate I think. It has been said by men who have witnessed some of the hardest fought battles of the war, that they never saw a more desperate fight. Cleburne’s Division we have always heard spoken of, as the flower of the Southern Army, and they boasted that they have never before been whipped. I don’t believe that braver men live than they were, but now there are but few left to tell the tale who will ever charge a Yankee line again.

About midnight we evacuated the place and fell back to this place. We had to leave some of our wounded in their hands as it was so dark that we couldn’t find them. Our loss was comparatively slight, about 700 in all, the 104th lost 62 mostly wounded. We had six of our best men wounded, none killed which is very fortunate . . .

I will enclose a little shred of our old flag which the Color Sergeant handed me the day after the fight. It is so ragged that it will scarcely hold together but we will prize it all the more for that.  We will never dishonor it, the little piece of red is part of a rebel flag we captured.

Source: (p. 125-127)

“Burning Rails as We Pleased”: The Civil War Letters of of William Garrigues Bentley, 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. McFarland, 2011.

Here’s a word cloud based on his letter:

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