Letter: Lt. Thomas Cummings to John H. McBride
Upon the Death of His Son John Lucien McBride
At Chickamauga, East Viniard Field, Late Afternoon, September 19, 1863

Chattanooga Tennessee
Dec 31st, 1863

John H. McBride
Respected Sir,

Yours of the 21st inst. is just received. It was addressed to Captain Brown. He being absent I took the liberty of breaking open and reading your letter. And believing I could give you as much if not more of the required information, I hasten to reply. I should have done this immediately after the battle of Chicamauga, but I saw Mr. Christian, Lucien's uncle, who has always interested himself in every respect possible in regard to your son's welfare. I asked him to perform this painful duty for me, which I am told he did do. I will here make a statement of facts to the best of my knowledge and all the positive information gained from others.

12 o'clock, Sept. 19th, 63. We are ordered to the front to hold the right. On the double-quick we go the distance [?] miles. We take position. The rebels mass on the right center of the [Federal] army. The right center gives way. We are ordered to the spot. We arrive at 3 o'clock, nearly exhausted from the rapidity in which we were moved. We formed our line of battle in quick-time and before all our men had fairly arrived to take their respective places in the ranks. I was in my position immediately behind the left of my company. While I was urging the men who were coming up, apparently with some reluctance, or so it seemed to us who were waiting, Lucien remarked, "Come boys, hurry up! It won't do for Illinois soldiers to lag or falter. Let us present a bold front and we can drive them." I may not have worded it just as he did, but above is the sentiment. As Lucien said this, his countenance wore a cheerful expression, a confident hope of success and a triumphant victory, as well as fixed determination to accomplish such a victorious end.

The men, having now all been closed up, we are ready, and 15 minutes more and we are on the field of action. The line in our front was fast falling back. We were ordered to lay down and await the approach of the enemy. The deadly missiles from the foe were passing over, around, and in among our men. We are ordered to charge. In obedience to orders we rise and move forward—not all of us however. Your son, John L. McBride, lay a victim to a deadly shot from the rebel horde. The bullett entered about the middle of the forehead and passed out the lower part of the back of the head. I looked at him, left him, and hurried on to the Company, where the struggle was contested to desperation, and where our Regt. lost 16 killed & 75 wounded—all this in 5 minutes' time. Here we held our ground until the Rebels fell back about 40 rods, when we were ordered to fall back about 60 paces to the fence and there to remain. 300 paces still further to the rear is the spot where I left Lucien for dead.

At quarter after 4 o'clock, I am permitted to make a detail of men to carry off the dead and wounded from the field to the rear where they could be cared for. The men went to the place where Lucien fell. He was not there. The litter bearers had carried him to the rear some 600 paces and placed him beside a log. The boys went to the log and found him and they noticed he breathed at intervals a hacking catching breath. But life was fast ebbing away. H. R. Taylor, James B. Stivers and John L. McGuire of our Company layed down some blankets and placed Lucien on them, then layed rails on the log, extending over the body on the ground, and then covered more blankets over the rails. This was done to protect the body from molestation of horses and wagons that were [continually] moving about. In this situation the men above mentioned left him and proceeded to care for the wounded who yet lay on the field. Now the men above mentioned were ordered to join their Companies by field officers sent for that purpose, and now only two remained to perform the duties that I had assigned to 5 men. These two men are William Dinsmore & Peter Goffinet of our Company. The ambulance wagons were all busy. These two men undertook the task of carrying Augustus Johnson of our Company to the hospital who had his arm shot off. When they got to the hospital, they were ordered to remain there by the surgeon in charge.

Now I must take you back to the battlefield again where our Regt remained until half past 4 o'clock of the morning of 20th of Sept. when we got orders to move 2 miles to the left. H. R. Taylor and James B. Stivers went to the log where they left Lucien's body. One blanket and the rails remained by the log. But Lucien's body was not to be found, but the body of another man who had been placed within a few paces of the place where Lucien was laid in the same place and situation that he was the night before.

Now I am satisfied that your son was taken from there, the log, on the night of the 19th by the ambulance wagons to some hospital, and there were a dozen or more hospitals. As a matter of course I cannot tell what hospital he was taken too. I can give you no more information at present, but when the hospital nurses return to the Regt who were taken prisoner on the 20th, I may be able to tell you where and how Lucien was buried if he was buried at all.* Believe me when I tell you that all was done that could be done for Lucien under the circumstances, for you are well aware that on the 20th the entire army fell back to Chattanooga and from that day to this we have been unable to gain any further information whatsoever. There is not a man in the company but who feels the loss of their noble comrade with deep regret. Although Lucien was young, he was one of the best soldiers in the Regt, always performed his duties with dispatch without a murmur, and no one is more worthy of reverence for good moral conduct and noble deeds of daring than your lamented son.

I am, Dear Sir, with high Regard
Your very obedient servant
Thos. M. Cummings
1st Lt. Comdg Co. "'D"' 51st Ill Inft

John McBride, Pension File, Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. There are a number of other McBride letters on this site.

*At the time Cummings wrote this letter it had not yet become clear that most men captured at Chickamauga would not be released from Confederate prisons for over a year. Hardly any of them were well enough to return to the regiment when they were released. Dinsmore and Goffinet were pressed into nursing service when they carried Augustus Johnson to the hospital. On September 20, Dinsmore and Goffinet were captured with the hospitals. They both died while in the hands of the enemy. At the time Cummings wrote this letter Dinsmore was already either dying of smallpox at the Confederate prison in Danville, Virginia. Goffinet died at Andersonville in June, 1864 and was buried there. Still, someone knew where John McBride was buried, for his body was retrieved by the regimental detail sent to the Chickamauga battlefield on April 21, 1864. John L. McGuire, who helped build the canopy of fence rails and blankets over McBride's body was also captured on September 20 and was released "early" from Confederate prison, April 1864, but still too late to say if he knew something about the whereabouts of McBride's remains. Regimental surgeon Thomas Magee was also captured with the Federal hospitals. Doctors by special arrangements were exchanged in November 1863. Magee knew where at least some soldiers of the regiment were buried.

Augustus Johnson had a severe compound fracture of his left arm, but he did keep the arm, and it healed enough for him to return to duty in the fall of 1864. He was killed at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.