BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE
The bitterly cold weather made matters worse. “I felt like I was dying, I was so chilled,” recalled a (Missouri) state guardsman named Samuel McDaniel. “The snow was all over us, and our clothes frozen on our bodies.” One morning McDaniel’s feet were so swollen he could barely stand up. He called out: “O God, Colonel, shoot me, if you will, but don’t tell me to fall in, I’m nearly dead and cannot walk for the life of me.”
from - Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by Wm. Shea & Earl Hess
The following is from the diary of Wallace P. Benson who served in Company H of the 36th Illinois Volunteers.
March 1 – We decamped at eight
marched nearly west about seven miles and camped near good water.
Extremely cold snowing lightly all day. I went to a deserted house and
got some books.
March 6 – Sugar Creek and Pea
March 7 – Leetown, Arkansas –
Battle of Pea
Our artillery opened upon them (the enemy). As they came out in squads our artillery would drive them back. They soon got tired of such work and tried to out flank us on the right, but were met with terrible slaughter. What remained of Co. B some of Co. E were sent forward as skimishes and Pete Pelican, Co. B, shot Ben McCullock and took from him a fine gold watch which Col. Greusel bought at quite a cost. They were finally routed just at night. We passed over the field on a back road to the other field of engagement. We passed many dead and dying which was enough to move the strongest heart. We moved around near their right wing and lay down by the fence in silence. Not being allowed a fire we suffered with the cold. It was past midnight that a messenger came for us to come into camp. We were glad to get by a fire once more and although we had no blankets or anything to eat we slept and rested. We arose in the morning and go a few mouths full of meal when the messengers of death came hissing over our heads. We were advancing on the right wing of the enemy when a severe cannonade commenced on both sides. We were marched past our batteries to support them on the left. The shell and ball hummed through the air but no one was hurt. We took our position and lay down. The balls whizzed over our heads but not one man in our whole regiment was killed. The cannonade was most awful, lasting about two hours, when the 16th Missouri advanced on the right. Two of our companies were sent out as skirmishers. The enemy retreated on to a high cliff and kept up the fire. Our company was ordered forward to support Co. K and while passing in front O. Picket, Kimplin, Conroe, Oles Bunker were wounded. The enemy were driven from the bluff. Our regiment rejoined us and we scoured the woods in vain to find a secesh.. There was cheering and shouting when we found they were whipped. They scattered in every direction, leaving any quantity of small arms and I understand we have taken twenty seven pieces of artillery.
Our division followed them on the Springfield Road and we found the houses filled with wounded secesh. We traveled about twelve miles after the fight was over, which had ended about noon. Our team came up but did not bring over 100 blankets and we were left without tent or blankets and but little to eat
March 9 – Keitsville, Missouri
March 10 – The camp was aroused by the secesh, which came in to bury their dead, riding on to come of our cavalry without having up the flag. We were out and into line in a hurry, but the news soon came to go back to our quarters. Were on picket.
March 11 – I went over where the right wing were engaged and to see Junius. Found that he had gone. The dead were nearly all picked up but the ground showed signs of desperate fighting.
March 12 – Very hot. We remained
in camp all day
for there was a rumor that we were going to march.
We were ordered to march at seven, we knew not where. We camped on Sugar Creek about three miles from the battleground. Rained very hard at night.
March 14 – We remained in camp all day. Considerable difficulty exists between Generals Sigel and Curtis about going ahead.
March 15 – General Sigel still opposes the advance and reported his division unfit for service. Considerable trouble exists in camp, some of the officers resigning. Col. Joslyn and Major Barry offered their resignations.
March 16 – Everything remains quiet since the battle. There is but little to eat.
March 18 – Received orders to march in the night.
March 19 – Keitsville, Missouri
March 21 – Continues to snow, as much snow having fallen as at any time during the winter. We were relieved from picket about 1 o’clock.
March 22 – Very cold. We received a letter from Clymena. Bought a piece of cheese of the suttler about the six of my hand for fifty cents.
March 30 – We were relieved from picket duty. I was quite unwell. Two hundred and forty three of our men came back from Van Buren being all the prisoners they had taken since we left Rolla. Every precautionary measure against an attack being made. Our men that were prisoners confirm the death of Ben McCullock, McIntosh, Slack, Stone, all generals. They report great dissatisfaction in the secesh army and many are going home. Peach trees begin to blossom.
March 31 – A package of our letters were broken
open and money taken.
The following is a portion of a letter from Capt. Sile Miller, of the 36th regiment, to his brothers in this city. We have been permitted to print the extract below:
“After I had assembled the skirmishing party, I was ordered to hold the two companies to support the Peoria Battery, which was just then recapturing two of its guns, the enemy having fled in wild confusion, being pursued by the 36th and two or three other regiments, for one and a half or two miles. It was McCulloch’s force we fought the first and second days. We saw no more fighting that night, as it was sundown or nearly. We remained with the battery, which changed position three or four miles during the night, and started off with it to commence the action the next day, going about three miles on a stiff double quick, having had nothing to eat but raw fat bacon since the morning before. – We came across our own regiment, and were ordered by Col. Osterhaus to join it, and let the battery be taken care of by the division to which it belonged. Within five minutes afterwards, the shell came over the trees within a few rods of us. We change position so as to support Welfle's battery, with the whole five regiments of our brigade. Again the three left companies were ordered forward as skirmishers, B,G, and K, and I was ordered to oversee the deployment. We came to the brush at the foot of a high hill. This time our boys got a foothold in the brush. As the devils were not more than two or three to one, they very soon became aware that well-drilled skirmishers could beat them at their own game of bushwhacking. All the time our own cannon were pouring their contents over our heads upon the top of the hill, Company H, Captain Joslyn, in the meantime reinforce the line. The 12th Missouri was in a hollow on our right, keeping up a perfect shower of bullets from their French rifles. The enemy began to fall back. We assembled on our own regiment, and the whole marched over the hill, which was strewn with dead and wounded. Great trees were crushed and torn by the cannon shot, rocks were shivered to atoms, and prisoners say it was really what seemed to be a perfect hell. After marching over the hill, Maybe you know what joy is, but you do not and never can know the wild delirious ecstasy which crazes the soldier, or rather an army, when they know they have won and put to route an enemy twice or three times their number, whom they have been fighting with various success for three excited, anxious, ALMOST ETERNAL DAYS. What though their comrades moan and shriek with painful wounds! What though hundreds of dead are strewn within their very sight! THE VICTORY IS OURS! The cost and all else is forgotten. The great joy and wild delight absorbs all else; ecstasy rules the hour and the man, and gives a life that he never knew before. As I came off the field, I picked up some loose papers blowing about, and found them to be a part of the contents of the last mail. I found Lieut. Abe Longworth’s last letter to his wife, and also one to his uncle, and a communication from Chaplain Lyon to some religious paper. which was very steep and precipitous, we rested, and gave regiment after regiment, and General after General, thundering cheers, and were cheered by them in return.
Here is an extract from another
officer of the 36th,
Lieut. Sam Sherer, of Capt. Jenk’s company. It
is worth reading:
Colonel Nicholas Gruesel(photo taken after the war)
View of Chaos and Destruction
Union forces commanded by General Rosecrans, faced off against Confederate forces, commanded by General Bragg near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Confederates struck Union lines first, and succeeded in pushing back the Union flanks. The Union center held. Confederate forces attacked repeatedly, but failed to move Union forces. Bragg expected Rosecrans to to withdraw, but Rosecrans did not comply. When it became clear that Rosecrans was receiving reinforcements from Nashville, Bragg withdrew his forces. Rosecrans declared victory and thus boosted Northern morale.
As a result of this battle, Tennessee was
opened up, leading to the spectacular Tullahoma campaign and the
capture of Chattanooga, the "Gateway to the South". These successes led
to Sherman's devastating Atlanta Campaign and his March to the Sea. President Lincoln later wrote General Rosecrans, " I
can never forget….you gave us a hard-earned victory, which, had there
been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."
"As it is,
it was one of
the bloodiest battles on record in proportion
to the numbers engaged" - Colonel J.B. Dodge
THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS
While the 1864 battle of Franklin has long been considered one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict, the Battle of Stone River, fought December 31, 1862 through January 2, 1863, was said to be even bloodier. But on the eve of the battle, a spontaneous celebration of the human spirit occurred. On that night, Union and Confederate troops were so closely encamped that each regimental band could be heard by both sides. To ease the tension of the approaching encounter, the bands began a spontaneous musical competition. ( The Rebels played "Dixie", while the Union bands countered with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; and so it went, back and forth, on and on throughout the night.) However, when one of the bands launched into "Home, Sweet Home" ( a popular song of the day ) competition quickly faded to brotherhood. First one band joined in, and then another, and another until all the musical groups were playing the poignant song in unison. Then men began singing the verses, and soon a massive chorus resounded through the cold, foreboding darkness. By the time the Confederate troops retreated three days later, more than 25,000 of those homesick soldiers had become casualties of war.
Performing under fire became commonplace for bands under the command of General Phillip H. Sheridan. Sheridan loved music and took a personal interest in his bands. This was shown in the equipment, mounts, and uniforms he accorded his bandsmen. To pay for these privileges, his bands performed at the front during battle playing the liveliest airs in their repertory. General Sheridan paid tribute to Army bands when he remarked, "Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war."
Colonel J.B. Dodge later recounted two incidents of peculiar import:
When the war broke out a young man, whose mother lived on one of the farms we fought over on the thirty-first, was at school in Virginia. He at once volunteered, got a commission and was assigned to staff duty in the rebel eastern army. He was anxious to get home to see his mother once more; but the opportunity never occurred until just before the battle, when some troops were sent to Bragg by Lee and this young man was sent with them. They arrived at Murfreesboro during the night on the thirtieth, were placed in line and attacked us on the morning of the thirty-first. By one of these peculiar accidents that we cannot account for, the troops he was with crossed his mother's farm, and while making a charge he was instantly killed in the door yard in front of the house, falling almost across the door-step. A sad coming home for him.
One of the most singular sights
on the field
were the actions of the numberless small birds and rabbits that were
driven frantic with terror. The birds would flutter and circle around
our heads apparently too bewildered to get out of the way, and flocks
of a hundred or more at a time would drop down on the ground and sit
there stupefied with fright, while rabbits, of which there were a great
number, would hop around more like toads than anything else, and both
rabbits and quails would actually crawl up as close as they could to
the men where they were lying on the ground in line of battle, and
lively firing going on around.
Report of Capt. Porter C.
Olson, 36th Illinois Infantry Stone River
HEADQUARTERS THIRTY-SIXTH ILLINOIS VOLUNTEERS,
January 9, 1863.
The skirmishers kept up a sharp fight, the enemy's line retreating and ours advancing. We drove the enemy through the timber and across the cotton-field, a low, narrow strip stretching to the right into the timber. A rebel battery, directly in front of the Thirty-sixth, directed a heavy fire on us. Our skirmishers advanced to the foot of' the hill, near the cotton-field, and here kept up a well-directed fire. We were ordered to support Captain Bush's battery, which was brought into position in the point of timber where our right rested, and opened fire with terrible effect upon the enemy. We remained as a support until nearly dark, when Captain Bush went to the rear, the enemy's battery, or, rather, its disabled fragments, having been dragged from the field. In this day's engagement the regiment lost 3 killed and 15 wounded; total, 18. We occupied the hill during the night
On the morning of December 31, soon after daylight, the enemy advanced in strong force from the timber from beyond the cotton-field opposite our right. They came diagonally across the field. Upon reaching the foot of the hill, they made a left half-wheel and came up directly in front of us. When the enemy had advanced up the hill sufficiently to be in sight, Colonel Greusel ordered the regiment to fire, which was promptly obeyed. We engaged the enemy at short range, the lines being not over 10 rods apart. After a few rounds, the regiment supporting us on our right gave way. In this manner we fought for nearly half an hour, when Colonel Greusel ordered the regiment to charge. The enemy fled in great confusion across the cotton-field into the woods opposite our left, leaving many of their dead and wounded upon the field. We poured a destructive fire upon them as they retreated until they were beyond range.
The Thirty-sixth again took position upon the hill, and the support of our right came forward. At this time General Sill was killed, and Colonel Greusel took command of the brigade. A fresh brigade of the enemy advanced from the direction that the first had come, and in splendid order. We opened fire on them with terrific effect. Again the regiment on our right gave way, and we were again left without support. In this condition we fought until our ammunition was exhausted, and until the enemy had entirely flanked us on our right. At this juncture Major Miller ordered the regiment to fall back. While retreating, Major Miller was wounded, and the command devolved upon me. We moved back of the cornfield to the edge of' the timber, a hundred rods to the right of the Wilkinson pike and 2 miles from Murfreesborough, at 8 a.m. Here I met General Sheridan, and reported to him that the regiment was out of ammunition, and that I would be ready for action as soon as I could obtain it. We had suffered severely in resisting the attack of superior numbers. I had now only 140 men. The regiment fought with great obstinacy, and much is due to Col. N. Greusel for his bravery in conducting the regiment before being called away.
The following is a letter from a soldier to his family describing the Battle of Stone River. It was first published by the Daily Citizen and then later by the Rushville Times in Illinois in 1906.
Headquarters on The Battlefield
January 5, 1863
Dear Wife and Children:
The great Battle of Stone River
is over and I am
alive, thank God! I
wrote to you last Sunday and told you of the hardships we passed
through marching from Nashville to Stuard Creek, where we laid in camp
all day Sunday, when I wrote to you last.
Well, I will tell you what I can about the battle. It was the first one that our regiment was in and would be glad if it would be the last one. At 7 o’clock the bugle blew “Fall in!” and we formed in line of battle on one side of the creek, and the “Johnnies” were on the other side. The command was, “Forward, march!” We started in line of battle. The order was forward, and we had to go. We went. The creek was frozen over and we had to wade it that cold morning; but we wouldn’t have cared for that so much if the rebels had not been shooting at us. We wet up to our wastes. We marched all day in line of battle, over bushes, fences, streams. It was a hard day on the Eighty-four. It was a fight all day. The skirmish line firing continually. We camped on the battlefield that night. It was very cold. We had no blankets, nothing but the clothes we had on our backs. I didn’t think so much about the cold as I did about the “Johnnies.” We moved around considerably getting into position. Tuesday the rebels had made a stand here, and every man knew what was coming. The 84th was on picket Tuesday night, Wednesday morning we were relieved and thought we would have a soft nap. Our colonel ordered us out in line and made us a little speech; told us the hard battle was coming and this would be our first battle and to remember what State we were from. He said: “If there was one in the regiment that thought he wouldn’t go through the fight, come to him and he would give him a pass to go to the rear.” I would have given my right arm to go back to the rear that morning, though I would not say so. In less than 30 minutes from the time we broke ranks we were in the fight. The “Johnnies” had surprised McCook on our right. Though they were pressing our men hard we knew from the firing that we would soon be in it. I had time to say a short prayer and thank God. The Lord answered that prayer and I don’t believe there was a man in the regiment but what prayed that morning.
About this time the “Johnnies” were coming, driving our men out; we were demoralized and panic stricken; our hardest struggle was along the pike. The line of battle was about eight miles long and we were in the center. Here I had a little of experience. We were ordered to lay down and fire at will; I could not get my gun to go off; I laid on my back, picking powder in the tube of my gun in order to get it to shoot. In 10 or 15 minutes we were ordered to our feet and forward. Charley Roberts was wounded; I saw him fall; I ran and got hold of his gun and then I was all right.
Our regiment opened a brisk fire upon them as soon as it came into position, which told upon the enemy across the pike, as we could easily see in the course of the next half hour. Col. Grose, our brigade commander, retired to the left of our regiment to make room for the battery, which swept the advancing columns of the enemy as they charged up toward the cedar woods. The regiment immediately on the right of ours fired briskly for awhile and temporarily maintained their position; but in the course of an hour they began to fall back, which gave the enemy a strong position in the thick cedar wood on our right. Now the balls came upon us in a perfect shower from that direction. Our regiment was now terribly exposed, especially on the right, for the enemy was coming in upon us through the thick cedar, giving us a perfect enfilading fire. After enduring in this position, most withering fire for some time, perhaps an hour, and when the enemy were within about sixty yards, the right of the regiment were retired so as to front the enemy, and we again fought desperately, every man working as though his life depended upon his own exertion. The enemy continued to advance and was gradually turning our left flank.
The “Board of Trade” battery was all the while throwing shell and grape and canister over our right, and Mendenhall’s battery over our left, sweeping trees, underbrush and the advancing enemy down at each discharge. The enemy was pouring in upon us a most galling fire as we lay in this position. The balls fell like hail in a hard storm. At last when we were the only regiment remaining west of the pike the order came to retire, which was obeyed promptly.
The “Board of Trade” battery saved us very much as we were falling back, and the officers and men deserve great credit. Our greatest loss was at the ledge of rocks near the pike, and in falling back to the railroad 25 of our regiment fell dead and scores were wounded. Our regiment rallied on the west side of the railroad, where they were under fire for six long hours. We had shot all of our ammunition away and we were released from the front. We marched back to the rear, probably a mile, stacked arms, and we only had 113 guns. Tears rolled down the cheeks of our brave colonel when he found that one half our regiment were killed and wounded. We fell back in the woods, as our services were not needed in front. It was a good time for us. I was the ranking officer in our company; the colonel told me to take charge of the company. I had thrown away my overcoat during the day; it was very cold and we were not allowed any fire that long, cold night, and had no blankets.
This ended the first day’s battle at Stone River. I will give you the names of the killed and wounded in our company, as far as I can: Lieut. Wisdom, Mitchell, Rall, Wortman, Tuggle, Clark, Crane, Pelsor, Roberts, Spear, Shepherd, Slyter, Waters, Edson, Mitchell, Deardorff, Patricks, Parks; 18 wounded in Company A. I can’t give you the names of killed and wounded in the regiment.
Now, I must tell you about brave George Yoken. He was colorbearer. He fell dead at about 10 o’clock. Col. Waters rushed to the spot, grabbed the old flag and brought it off of the battlefield. Our brave colonel sat on his horse in the thickest of the fight as cool as he would be in an ordinary law suit. We were all happily disappointed in our colonel. He was as brave a man as ever rode a horse. Thursday there was not general engagement. Both of the armies moved around for position. There was some skirmishing. On Friday our brigade was sent across the fiver. We had no battery. At 2 o’clock we were attacked by rebels—Breckenridge’s corps. We had made some temporary breastworks and laid behind the works till the “Johnnies” came very close to us. The Eighty-Fourth Ill. And the Sixth Ohio sprang to their feet with a yell, gave them a volley, then loaded and fired at will. The Twenty-fourth Ohio, Thirty-sixth Indiana and Twenty-third Kentucky fell back in considerable confusion. The Eighty-fourth Ill. And Sixth Ohio charged the rebels with a yell that could be heard three miles. The enemy gave back; we advanced and drove the rebels perhaps a mile. Finding our ammunition short, we fell back and went into camp for the night. This was Friday, the second day of January. It rained all night; I told you we had nothing only what we had on our backs. We were not allowed any fire and had to eat only roasted coffee and hard tack.
Wife, now can you imagine
what soldiers have to go through? It certainly is not for the $13 a
month; no not that, it must be for something else.
Think of a man lying or
standing out all night in January during a hard rainy night with not a
spark of fire.
The next morning I started
over the battlefield; I only went a short distance before I took sick.
On turning back I saw the dead rebels lying in heaps.
My God, how long will this
unholy war last!
Characteristic Letter from Major ‘Sile’ Miller, of the 36th
The following letter was received a few days ago by Jas. G. Barr, Esq., of this city, from his brother-in-law, Major Silas Miller, taken prisoner at Murfreesboro. The letter is characteristic of the Major, evincing no useless repining at his lot, but like a brave man putting the best face upon what cannot be helped:
Jan. 6th 1863
I have once written to Holmes since our captivity – it may not reach him and I write again. I am getting along finely. My leg though highly discolored and somewhat feverish, is able to sustain my weight and make a good walk of it. My right breast, though handsomely blued, is not painful, and corporeally and decidedly well – very well. I have heard nothing from Bob as yet, and am very anxious on his account. Please don’t criticize the style of this epistle; I have not time to find writing material. When found, poor writing paper is $2 per quire, whiskey $5 to $9 per quart, cards $2.50 per pack, butter $2.25 per lb., molasses 90 cents per quart, and other things in proportion. You can hardly find paper which has not been manufactured into money.
We are quartered (58 of us) in a room about the size of Concert Hall, and have a “circus” nightly, in which appears the elephant, the giraffe, the Confederate bug, the giant, and last night wound up with a glorious rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” which woke the astonished echoes of the remotest corners of this accursed town. We have received intelligence of Bragg’s “withdrawal” to Tullahoma. The faces of our outside friends are somewhat elongated. Weather wet and cool. We are in excellent spirits, and want to return to our regiment.
Love to all. Write
to Mother and Bob, and tell them how I am. Love
to the babies.
Email me: email@example.com
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