Returning to the Georgia campaign, we came upon a small force near Atlanta. After capturing their works and forcing them back for some distance, night closed this battle, the enemy losing one of their best Generals, General McPherson. That night we spent fortifying our new position, which was less than a mile from where we had left the night before.
That night I enjoyed a feast of Yankee coffee, crackers and ham taken from a dead Federal's haversack; and do not become horrified at my appropriating and eating a dead man's rations, for that was a common practice at that time in the army.
The siege of Atlanta was now on in earnest. In a short time our lines had been drawn in, our fortifications strengthened, our rations reduced to three fourths of a pound of unsifted meal and one fourth of a pound of bacon per day, while at the same time Hood was having all the supplies that he could procure stored in Atlanta with the idea of holding the place at all hazards.
On July 28, another hard battle was fought on the west side of the city, which gained us nothing. We were kept in our works and under fire from July 22nd to the last days of August with more or less fighting every day. During the last days of August, Sherman moved a part of his army from around Atlanta intending to strike the railroad at or near Jonesboro, sixteen miles below Atlanta. Hood, in order to meet this emergency, moved his old corps, now under Cheatham, and Hardee's corps, to meet Sherman's forces at Jonesboro, leaving Stewart with his corps at Atlanta, to hold that place, while Hood, with Hardee and Cheatham were to attack Sherman on August 31st.
August 31st dawned clear and bright, a hot sunny day. Hood attacked Sherman's forces, and after night had closed the day's conflict, nothing had been gained. The next day, September 1st, the battle was renewed, but to most of the men there seemed but little hope, for it could easily be seen that we were outnumbered, but still these men went forward in every charge in that do or die determination that had immortalized them on so many hard fought fields. The night before this last day's battle some of the commands had built light breastworks and late in the day the Confederates made their last stand behind these works when it seemed the Union forces had concentrated all their strength to crush Hood's remaining forces, and when Hood saw that defeat was inevitable, his army hard pressed, Gordon and his Arkansans captured, it was than that he cried: "Ten thousand more men or God send night." Hood had made a good fight but superior numbers had won and dark found Hood's forces tired, hungry and worn out, slowly making their way to Lovejoy Station, seven miles below, where that night a new line was formed and the men spent the remainder of the night in fortifying this line.
By ten o'clock the next morning the enemy was within three hundred yards of our line fortifying and until the night of September 6th there was an incessant skirmish kept up, with some hard fighting on the night of the 6th. My command was taken from the ditches and moved to our right, placed in reserve in rear of our main line of works, but in easy range of the enemy's fire and bullets from their small arms were continually passing over us.
My only bedding was an oil cloth taken from a dead Union soldier at the battle of Atlanta. You will remember that it was on going into this battle that we left our baggage, never to see it again.
On one night in this battle when it came time for my immediate group to rest I spread down my oilcloth and a comrade and myself lay down on it, covering with a blanket that he had secured in some way. The night was cool and we were soon asleep, regardless of the shells passing over us with their screams. After sunrise the next morning I was aroused to go and help load some supply wagons. On my return I found that my comrade had been killed the night before as he lay sleeping under the same blanket with me. He had never moved after being struck, for his neck was broken by the bullet.
I mention things that were of little interest to us at that time to show the young people of today what the old Confederate soldiers had become accustomed to.
On the night of September 1st Stewart's corps, which was about one third of Hood's army, had been left to hold Atlanta, but was forced to evacuate the place. While Johnson was in command of the army he kept only three days' rations stored in Atlanta, but when Hood was given command he commenced to collect all the supplies possible and store them in the city, but when Stewart was forced to leave the place all these supplies were destroyed. I was on picket that night, on an outpost and alone all that night. I listened to the bursting of shells and the noise of other ammunition as it was exploding, as the magazines were being destroyed by fire, and watched the lights from the burning buildings where our supplies were being burned that our army so desperately needed.
By a detour Stewart made his way from Atlanta in safety. On the morning of September 7th the enemy evacuated their trenches in our front and commenced to move back to Jonesboro over the route travelled in his advance. As it was only seven miles, by 12 M. the enemy had passed Jonesboro and was moving back to Atlanta, while we, for a second time was occupying Jonesboro. It was then that we could witness the destruction caused by a two days' hard fought battle. Everywhere over the field could be seen fresh, unmarked graves. Just in the edge of town at a large church where our general hospital had been established and left in the hands of the enemy, I was where many Confederates had been buried in trenches, but, as a boy, one thing attracted my attention, there were two unmarked graves, both privates, the headboards giving company, regiment etc., and on each was carved square and compass, showing to my boyish mind, that among men there were stronger ties than hempen cords. The headboards at these graves showed that this act of Christianity had been performed by members of the 50th Illinois regiment.
That evening I was made one of a detail to bury about three hundred of our men who had died at one of our hospitals, but had ceased to be used by the enemy. The days were very warm, and some of these men had been dead for three days, having been laid out on the ground in rows and their faces covered with old blankets, pieces of tents and anything to hide their faces from the rays of the sun. Imagination alone is not sufficient to picture this scene.
Long trenches were dug sufficiently wide to permit a man to be rolled in crosswise. I was one of them that was detailed to carry these men to the trenches. Decomposition had so far advanced, and the attendant result of the flies, which infested the place, made it impossible to handle them with our hands. We procured some litters and would lay a litter by the side of a body, and with the aid of wooden hooks, made from forked bushes, pull the body onto the litter. It was then carried to the side of the trenches and rolled in. As the bodies fell they covered over each other. Today, all trace of these ditches with their unknown dead are gone.
I mention these facts in detail that it may give some younger person a better understanding of the life, death and burial of many of the Confederate soldiers.
The next day found Hood's army at and near Jonesboro, where, since the beginning of May, we could sit or lie down and enjoy a quiet, undisturbed rest.
Next: Incidents and Emotions of a Boy Soldier
Previous: Tennessee to Georgia
Table of Contents