Decoration:

Some Footprints
of the
Army of the Cumberland
From the Privatesí Standpoint

Third Edition

By William Gardner,
Late Co. D, 51st V. V. Infantry Herald,

Washington, Ill
1883

On beholding the letters “Army of the Cumberland,” many youths of the community propound the interrogative as to its purport. In response, the annexed annals are respectfully submitted, with no desire to extol the camp as the gate to Heaven—although we read of Abraham the faithful, the first Roman soldier convert at the Cross, and a George Washington, in testimony that the profession are not debarred quarters in the encampment of the Lord of Hosts: but simply record the virtue of the defenders of the United States. The conviction predominates that the pen of the historian, either robed in Anglo-Saxon ponderous as marble structures, the diamond vocabulary of the Gaul, the jeweled voice of the Celestials, ornate metaphors from the Occident, pearls from Araby the blest—in fine, the entire army of language can but feebly demonstrate a tithe of the transcendental import of the late Civil War, the significance in full will only be elucidated “when the Books are opened” in the illuminations of Empyrean.
      The ebullitions of Mars, perpetuating veteran re-unions, and in the selection of Presidents from this fraternity, suggest some extracts collated from the spring-tide bivouac of 1862 and the tortuous campaigns of ’63-4, to replace the vengeful foam which has recently agitated the lake of state craft.
      We revert more complaisantly to a page of the bloodless victory of Island 10, which was a timely solace to Freedom, and marked one coruscant avenue through the lurid recesses of internecine strife. Gen. Paine takes a brigade of infantry from Bird’s Point, Mo., along the fire-scarred bridges of Fulton railroad. Halting the command amid the sylvan shades of Bertrand, a continuous rain floods the landscape. Illinois mud is thrown into the shade by its Missouri rival. Many prefer to snatch fitful somnolence with their backs to a tree, the sole enchantment consisting in smiling visions of a luxurious apartment in a more northern abode. Our Colonel, although eager to ascend the rounds of military exploit, succumbs to miasma; yet his mantle of authority devolved upon a Lieutenant who worthily upheld its dignity in innumerable wounds of battle thereafter. The latter fated to still walk on and unite his fortune with the Boys in Blue to the left circumvallation of New Madrid, under the indomitable Pope. In this vicinity, denuded of fence rails, the mire was so atrocious as to compel a siege gun to be dragged by a rope in the hands of footmen to the river bank to reply to the foe, who were uttering their malevolence to the Union from the mouths of three cannon on the opposite shore. The routine of camp life evolves in general in a somewhat placid groove, varied by the resonant mortars around No. 10, and the permanent disabling of three effectives of the regiment for their temerity in tampering with an unexploded shell, and the starlit nights on picket encompassed with no more of danger than the yelling of canines accompanying the musical breeze on wood and plain.
      One feint of assault on the earthworks, then a metamorphose of the details arose by the withdrawal of the confederates. Four transports magically drift by tree tops, and boldly launching into the Mississippi, convey four regiments to the nether side; others to follow in their wake.
      A march of twenty miles devoid of water intercept at night-fall the enemy, near Tiptonville, who on the following morn surrendered, deducting some Louisiana artillerists, who, wildly plunging into a bayou, deposit their skeletons, and the living 6,000 were transplanted in the more amicable huts of Camp Douglas, Chicago. The pyramids of bowie knives was a surprising feature of the moment, their defiant nature harmonizing with the morale of the Texans, under the drenching rains of this semi-tropical latitude, the succeeding night.
      In contrast, the colored denizens of these Arcadian pastures in loud acclaim, and a commingle of trepidation and triumph herald the advent of thousands of Yankees and the year of Jubilo. Gen. Pope is free to descend the river to Ft. Pillow, the rendezvous of the gnat tribe, until recalled by the astute Halleck to join hands in the siege of Corinth, Miss.

One bright May day, General Paine’s division traversed timber belts, ravines and peach orchards in bloom, and debouche on a causeway of logs upon the grass-grown streets of Farmington. Price and Van Dorn sally from Corinth to check this reconnaissance and inflict severe loss on the Unionists, among the number Lieut. Col. Miles, 47th Ill., loses his life in the hey-day of his usefulness, lamented on field and at home. General Palmer afterwards erects parallel on the contested ground, whilst Beauregard disliking the secure foothold of the pertinacious Western men, retires from Corinthean walls, saluting the latter’s slumbers one early dawn, with explosions of deep note and concentrates around the town of Tupelo, Miss. The martial bands are mustered out, inferring henceforth more fatal symphonies on the Southern by-ways, its dense thickets are fraught with more perilous admonitions; as an offset the tall groves are redolent of moisture and effect a solace within this pale of the odoriferous swamps by coolness in mid-summer.
      Forage was sparse; and brigades were expanded fan shape ere the skies were once more encrimsoned with the gore of the slain, and consequent anguish of the widow and orphan. In the show of pursuit of the men of grey garb, in parading by companies through Rienzi, Danville, and Boonville, where the photograph of twisted and scorched railroad cars was portrayed, flags were unfolded and fife and drums resound cheerily without impressing a scintilla of veneration for national supremacy upon the minds of the white folks, whose outspoken desires were for our eviction; the black features were wreathed in smiles. This malicious camp of instruction was a base to the harvest of animosity, which evaporates ever and anon in this state in horrors, whose recital mantles the cheek of nations with the blush of condemnation and grates harshly upon the ears of the oppressed of all lands.

At intervals, a benign Providence hath mercifully decreed to suffer balmy repose on her silvery wings to alight even upon the devastated plains of war, and to garland the pathway of the combatants, irrespectively blue or grey, with the ever vernal bloom of buoyant associations, as a redeeming counterpoise to the oft-clustered asperities which, in somber festoons environ the martial pilgrim. To illustrate this axiom, we re-survey the landmarks of the fall of 1862, in which Illinois was represented by four regiments.
      The wayfarers leave to rear the wooded hamlet of Burnsville with greenbacks and ammunition at premium and proceed to the pretentious city of Iuka; thence detailing a garrison, leisurely progress to the icy lakes of Tuscumbia, the synonym for peaches and corn. Their military tread re-echoes under the labyrinthine arches of the forests bordering Bear river, and leaving behind picturesque woodlands, find to the right of the road wide extanted plantations of cotton ploughed by colored women and children in weird costume. Encountering General Bragg’s domicile, he with his ever alert men in grey correlatively are meandering somewhat further in the interior northward. The final company of Blue halt at Decatur on the margin of the Tennessee near relics of an iron bridge, the stone piers sole sentinels of the desolation of war and a monument of the vandalism of General Mitchell of astronomic fame and meteoric ramblings. The splendor of a month’s sojourn here dimmed once by the southerners’ severing hardtack communications with Corinth. In reprisal we levy corn, sheep and chickens from adjacent farmers. The quartermaster tenders Uncle Sam’s receipt to the involuntary contributors and endeavors to assuage the consternation evinced by the victims of this foray upon this discourteous invasion of their poultry precincts.
      Both, from the presence of literature and the absence of vindictiveness from the neighbors (seven Alabamians joining the company), was derived so beneficent a combination as to class these halcyon days in allegory as “rose blossoms on the waste places,” as well as haply “the dawn of the golden fringed Day of Peace,” dispelling the noxious vapors of the tempest-frowned Night of Civil War. As without extraneous succor the inmates of a bark in conflagration in the midst of the great deep would founder, so would the combatants on the gulf of fratricidal warfare (unless temporarily piloted thereon by suave Peace) be submerged in the mid-ocean of Calamity and Destruction. Forsooth the lowly soldier at the outset of his career confronting with enthusiasm the frown of adversity, hath in his advocacy of the downtrodden by uplifted bayonet wresting the scepter of Injustice from the modern Saracen, howbeit with meager recognition from humanity!  Lo! In the gleaming vista of futurity the harmonial strains of “Divine commendation” beckon. “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my disciples, ye have done it unto me.”

By memory’s want we next contemplate the tramp of the Western Army on the confines of the Gulf States. This intuition was modified when Bragg menaces Louisville. General Buell, with headquarters in the prairie city of Huntsville, marshals two divisions in hot haste impelling them North, dispatches a courier to General Palmer ordering concentration at Decatur and thence reinforce the depleted garrison of Nashville. A pontoon bridge is speedily constructed, the river Tennessee crossed dry shod, and with caution to avoid straggling (the fate of Colonel McCook in an ambulance emphasizing this counsel), Athens, of bitter memoirs, is soon reached, with unwelcoming gaze from the Athenians, vying with their prototypes as to ornamental shrubbery. Next, Pulaski, scowling with aversion to the Union (a counterpart, probably, of the Poles with regard to the Russian bear), thence Columbia the little and its tone-colored brethren as appertaineth to sovereigns of Columbia the great. Franklin, on Harpeth river, is now in view; its fine turnpike dotted with pretentious villas, and the omission of paying toll at the gate.
      As the Bodouins of grey are hovering around, we soon obtain cantonments free from dust, in the outlying pastures of Nashville.
      This capital, diminutive as to size, was a very Titan for the Army of the Cumberland, who therein received its appelative. It constituted a main artery to revive military pulsations in powder and provisions, quickly distributing them by aid of its concentric pike roads, ultimately proving the Thermopylae of Tennessee at the time General Thomas and his Spartans barred Hood’s right of way through it with the fiat: “Hitherto hast thou come!” (This diversity from the ancients prevailing, and it was a grave one to Southrons.) That our modern Leonidas, besides retaining the pass in having a preponderance of Greeks, plunged the Confederate host into the bottomless abyss of frustrated hopes and into the yawning chasm of unfulfilled expectancy, by driving them upwards of an hundred miles—the Maelstrom of their despair and the veritable Armageddon of the Lost Cause.

Oh, fair Nashville!  Invulnerable to the furious torrents of Slavery, by staying them in the vortex of defeat. Potential hast thou been to reward some of thy quondam defenders. We greet thee, Oh, city of rocks! For thine imposing State House, Fort Negley and thy gun factory—our shelter of the by-gone, and land thy suburban mansions nestling in charming groves; the gentle windows of the season vibrating with the branches and the placid waters of the Cumberland laving thy feet. We hail thee as a city built upon the hills which cannot be hidden!
      This apostrophe being incomplete without adding the orison that the survivors of the Blue and Grey may with one accord having no continuing city here, seek one to come, “whose Builder and Maker is God.”

The puissant fortune of war landed us with the Nashvilians in their isolation from the North. In the monotony of this soon-to-be beleaguered city, recourse was had notably to Nashville Union, beguiling with florid pictures of Union victories elsewhere, and during the ruthless deprivation of the Louisville Journal, the Cincinnati Commercial, and last but not least, the Chicago Tribune.
      The tocsin of war resounded once on the picket lines ere Rosecrans drew nigh and put in motion the component parts of the army. Then the clang of sabers and the tramp of armed men clatters through the thoroughfares with much vitality, heading southward, on to Murfreesboro where Bragg the “more grape” man holds forth with his cannon and unknown quantity of men in grey. By the last Sunday in December, 1862, McCook’s corps halted near a planter’s homestead, in a radius of six miles from Murfreesboro.
      Some indolently recline, others attack the smoke house of the aforesaid scion of chivalry and capture choice hams, others, more maliciously disposed, demolish the piano and mirrors, as the darkies aver that three sons of this house are members of Bragg’s forces.
      A panorama of events checkered with like incidents exists till Tuesday’s even, when the division stay in a corn field and boil flour over fires made of cedar rails, and that peculiar aroma impregnates the atmosphere by its smoke.
      Wednesday morn opens the first page of Stone river in dense fog; but by 8 a.m. sunlight glances on elms, dwarf cedars, and the red insignia of artillery, and soon the brunt on Sheridan’s division (Johnson of extreme right giving way) comes in earnest.
      A cannon ball ricochets on Company D, severely wounding three members, and General Sill and Colonel Roberts are killed. Colonel Bradley succeeds to the command of the Brigade, and advances fearlessly to reconnoiter. Houghtaling’s battery on a small eminence to the right directs fire on the hostile guns in a timber belt. We perceive a white horse and rider pacing to and fro in the undergrowth, but the men are screened from view in their trenches along the edge of the forest. Some of our men fire at random and we in the open are evidently more plainly discerned by the enemy; they hurl grape shot in our ranks, and one hustles against our blanketed right shoulder, precipitating us to the greensward, hors du combat. Barret Ruble, erstwhile of Washington township, takes gun and assists us over a rail fence rearward. This gallant Corporal, at a later day, expired in Jeffersonville hospital, lamented by comrades in arms, with their benediction that for him in due time will be effected a transfer to the realms of ever-abiding Spring and no night there. We painfully wend to a story-and-a-half frame, the receptacle of the wounded, the clamor of muskets along the zigzag lines very pronounced. A shell tears with horrid din the roof of the dwelling, evoking further destruction to some of the inmates. We glance through front windows, beholding our regiment sullenly retiring in files of four; on their heels yellow uniforms are hesitatingly crouching along as skirmishers, followed by an Alabama regiment, forming in front of the house.
      The patter of bullets attests to the establishment of wounded between two fires. General Hardee, the “tactics” man, looms up. We overhear him imploring his stragglers to press the Yankees into Nashville if possible. A Louisiana battery unlimbers in a ravine below the house, and opens on the Union center; it is replied to them, shot for shot, continuing till 5 p.m., when a polite Alabama Colonel details a Sergeant and squad as an escort to eight Yanks who can walk; destination Murfreeshore. On the march thither we fail not to perceive those suggestive blue overcoats prone on the plain—motionless, whose occupants will ne’er more need their protecting folds from Winter’s icy breath. May we not cherish the hope that they will waken in tranquility? Anon we cross a bridge over Stone river and suddenly defile to the right of the road to make way for, and our guard to salute, General Bragg, who, followed by a motley body guard, is repairing to his night quarters in town. He is in exuberant spirits and chats gaily with us about his 4,000 acquisition from Lincoln hirelings this day. History amply unfolds Breckenridge’s disaster on Friday.

It was the primary intent of the confederate leaders to run these prisoners of war to Vicksburg to be paroled. But as Sherman was cavorting around that stronghold, this disposition (after all had headed that way via Atlanta and Montgomery to West Point) was remanded, and in retracing the journey sixteen days were consumed on jolting freight cars by way of East Tennessee, Lynchburg to Richmond, Va.
      In the ill omen’d Libby we reclined eight days and found some courtesy on account of hailing from the west. Yet the lugubrious cadence of hunger and the refrains of despair evidenced on this southern tour will linger as specters. Also the infrangible vision of the rustling trees of autumn plaintively moaning over the unrecognizable sepulchers of comrades in arms. Likewise, the vast gaping pits, the depositories of southern dead on the summit of Mission Ridge stalk grimly forth, together with irrevocable impress of Hooker’s graveyard amidst the pines near Dallas with its narrow headboards chalked in white inscription of Company and Regiment; the latter a woeful result of sanguinary fighting one bright May afternoon to be succeeded by a night so stormy that each man huddles on the damp soil inert till the light of dawn should disentangle the chaos.
      On that same occasion nature sympathized o’er the slaughtered by mantling all the woods in funereal gloom. Rainfall bedewed the foliage with myriad drops, besprinkling alike, branch, shrub and blade of grass in concert with the lament of the wind—all vegetation, conspiring with the elements to frown upon this night of wrath and celebrating a dirge in unison.
      “Except the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh scarcely would be saved.”

The early June days of 1863 brought exchange and the rejoining of the group with the sapient Rosecrans in the cedar brakes south of Murfreesboro. He was awaiting the return of every man and artifice at his command to dislodge the occupants of Tullahoma, now distant thirty miles. In the advance through Hoover and Liberty gaps, its strategical approaches, rains descended seventeen consecutive days. But Bragg evacuated without much fighting, and July 4th Sheridan’s division camped on the plateau of the Cumberland Mountains; thence surveyed the Tennessee river at Bridgeport for a season, till September 5th, a crossing was effected. Thence mount after mount was scaled with a descent to correspond, from Trenton nearly down to the Georgian village of Alpine. In the valleys, potatoes and beans, lent added charms to the bill of fare, and a few thoughtful minds wonder that we are not thrown into Chattanooga, for a few days past, in the possession of the Unionists.
      The majority, however, repose confidently in the sagacity of “Old Rosey,” the prince of flankers; the few realize the dire results in the sequel. On September 16th, a night march by the flickering and deserted camp fires brings McCook’s corps to champion the right wing in the impending general engagement of Chicamauga Creek, Georgia. When the fog lifts on Saturday, the severity of the small arms attests what is in store. We behold Davis’ (Union) division intently watching the shock of the fray. Colonel Bradley is ordered to charge with his brigade, to recover ground lost; and complaisantly brandishing his sword, forms two regiments in advance, two in reserve near a knoll occupied partly by an Indiana battery who assist in this emergency. On double quick we pace down a decline—the shells screeching in mid-air—plunge through an open ditch, and deflect upon a stretch of open land near a log hut and four rail fence.
      Here, clouds of bullets shriek by, scourging the mass of humanity for several minutes; our right and left hand men were killed. Soon a truce is called and the wounded are carried from the melee. A Georgia Captain and one of his company implore for water from our canteen; they volunteer the information that their strength aggregates 90,000 men, and unavailingly ask to be removed from the inhospitable surroundings, and were doomed that night to listen to the moans with our own men.
      On Sunday the brigade retires to an umbrageous grove at the foot of a lofty ridge and made coffee, when they are directed by the ever-impetuous Sheridan, one eighth of a mile to right front. Whilst getting into position, somebody blundered; the gap of a division having been left tenantless. Hood’s men were wedging in; a panic ensues; teamsters were galloping up a steep hill; our line wavers, cavalry intercepts; a second rally is made, but to no purpose. The rout begins and ends at Rossville.
      The second edition of Bull run is enacted, and the splendid courage of the first day is eclipsed by the inaccuracies of the second.
      Obtruding pictures of Andersonville accelerate the speed of the fugitives,[1] who would have been stubborn had they improvised breast works, which was done when they reached Rossville and the left wing in abeyance. Monday passed without molestation from Bragg. Our company withdrew, quietly from picket at 4 a. m., Tuesday, the last infantry to enter the redoubts of our objective point, Chattanooga.
      Our Rosecrans, with brows encircled by prior laurels, leaves for another field shortly, and we were cooped up in Chattanooga in a defiant attitude for two months, until Sherman facilitates a project to overcome the semi-circular advantages of the enemy posted on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
      We saw the grandeur of the Battle of the Clouds and it fell to the honor of the Fourth Corps to assault Mission Ridge. One afternoon in December, twelve cannon signal the advance.
      The esprit due corps, the anxiety to mete out retaliation for Chicamauga and the final observing of more safety in climbing the mount inspire the broad extended lines to almost superhuman efforts, under the immediate supervision of Grant and Thomas, who precipitate their momentum on the breast-works at the foot of the ridge, crushing the enemy’s grand guards instanter and without orders from Sheridan.
      In thirty minutes the dizzy heights are scaled in panting condition. The enemy perforce surrender forty cannon and 3,000 men, ushering in an augury of triumph for the Fourth Corps under old “Pap” Thomas, who launches them upon Knoxville for the support of Burnside.
      As in military institute, all lessons are not alarming—weeks often elapsing without the clash of conflict, so this inhibition now befell Harker’s brigade encamping near Strawberry Plains. From this congenial region numerous battalions, who have seen two years’ service on field and flood, re-enlisted for the war, and secured, ere the winter was over, thirty days furlough and square meals, to pace elasticity for the Atlanta campaign.
      In April ’64, Colonel Harker, of the 64th Ohio, seeks occupancy of Horse Shoe fort, near Dalton, looming on a brow girt about with trees, and prepares to storm. That night, fortunately for the brigade, witnessed the departure of the foe, and by taking the valley road through this burg. General Howard carefully attends to the approaches to Resaca; and disliking an open field, uninviting as it was, swept by confederate batteries, deviates to the left, to connect with the fighting Hooker; the latter repels the enemy who evacuates the same night. General Thomas crosses the narrow river, deploying many miles over an undulating country, winding along to Cassville, where the enemy’s rear division tenaciously fight one afternoon, but on the morrow allow peaceful travel to Kingston. Here, one peaceful Sabbath was spent; almost the sole quiet gained by the command during several weeks in succession, and at this place rumors are rife of an overland march to Mobile, forecasting shadows of the illustrious “March to the Sea.”
      For General Thomas the panorama shifts to Burnt Hickory, on the southern banks of a turbid river. Hooker is engaged against odds, losing heavily; ambulances busy in bringing back his wounded, and several days pass with unusual dangers for the pickets, who are changed under cover of darkness.
      Fogs prevail in this hilly country and the days are environed betimes with drowsiness, and the vociferous cannon as a lullaby.
      The fortalices of the enemy are now turned. Big Shanty is passed and Marietta within purview and the first shrill whistle of the locomotive was heard, raising the shout of exultation, as it brings medical supplies and letters from home.
      In the middle of June two snapping reports of a light cannon signals the death of General Polk of Louisiana. Two days thereafter, in the vicinage of Pine and Lost Mountains, Colonel Bradley receives orders to push the enemy at all hazards, for a general advance. The rains have tinged the foliage a dark green in the low glades and the trees afford concealment for the enemy’s riflemen. Captain Tilton, commanding skirmishers, cautiously moves on at trail arms, one fourth of a mile, the quietude betokening danger.
      A small, dry creek is glided through, when the bullets begin to patter, but we are told not to fire but preserve our alignment at all hazards. Decomposed logs and any protuberance of the broken ground was diligently used; we finding a corn crib on the path and seeing somewhat indistinctly three yellow uniforms to the right.
      “Advance!” came the ringing command. The comrade on our right is mortally wounded, and a minnie perforates our right hip. Adjutant Hall comes up and binds cotton strips around, and two men at great risk carry us to the rear. In two days, Cumberland field hospital, near Nashville, opens its portals in the shape of a tent.
      The gallant young Colonel Harker, in a few days thereafter, gloriously fell leading the futile charge on the fortresses of Kenesaw. The solid consolation remains to the brave, the true, and the free, that he and like martyrs will, upon the introduction of the final revilee, be uniformed by the Great Captain in armor indestructible “beside that tree of life which is for the healing of the nations.”

Yea! The true Crusader basks in the circumambient sunshine of honor, past, present, and to come. In the morn of the ages a distinctive record mentions the names of the men of war. In this, the noon of time, the rumble of the cannonade and the roll of the small arms along the lines, have witnessed his fame. In the eventide of earth he will occupy the heights of renown till the Master cometh to judge the world; thence possess Canaan, as Joshua of old, where the banner of the Prince of Peace triumphantly and ceaselessly floats, and the chorus of harps ever linger in the praise of the Infinite Presence, the Supreme Ruler in Heaven.


[1] Gardner is reading backward into the past. It could not have been Andersonville that "obtruded", for Andersonville did not incarcerate its first prisoners until February 1864. It was the specter of other Confederate prisons that caused the men to accelerate their pace. Many Federal soldiers who were captured at Chickamauga did, of course, in the course of a few months end up in Andersonville.