National Tribune, April 10, 1884

General G. W. Roberts and Stone River

To the Editor National Tribune:

In your issue of February 21, I saw a request from Comrade Robertson, Talmage, Kan., for a portrait of General G[eorge]. W. Roberts, of the 47th – instead of the 42d – Illinois infantry. As a matter of fact this may be a typographical error, but I am too proud of our old brigade commander to let it pass unchallenged. General Roberts fell at the head of the 3d brigade, 3d division (Sheridan’s, 20th army corps, McCook’s), December 31, 1862. A braver officer never led troops. A finer appearing one in the saddle it was hard to find. I have his portrait in my mind’s eye, but, not being an artist, I cannot give it to Comrade Robertson for his Post. General Roberts was also a hero of an expedition of forty from the 42d who spiked a battery of guns on April 1, 1862, so that our gunboats could pass Island No. 10.

This may bring out something from some survivor of that party. In fact, it is wonderful the number of grand reminiscences this page does evoke from the memories of old comrades. They are more precious to me than any history. And right here perhaps, is as good a place as any to add my own mite to the contribution, as I feel very much indebted for what I get here and with your permission will off this, as no one has accepted my invitation to write up our charge through the cedars on that same day. Roberts, Sill, and Schaefer, all of Sheridan’s brigade commanders, were gone. The whole right wing of McCook’s was broken and swung around on to the Nashville or Murfreesboro pike. Even this was fast slipping from us. It was about 2 p.m. Many of us had had no food for twenty-four-to forty-eight hours. Water, also, was very scarce. We were lying along the pike, pretty well exhausted and somewhat disorganized when an orderly dashed up from Sheridan to Colonel L. P. Bradley, our colonel, who had assumed command of our (Roberts’) brigade, (and kept it, too, up to the battle of Chickamauga, when I lost the use of my good right arm, and I do not know how much longer,) with the order that those cedars must be cleared and the pike held at any cost. Old vets know what that meant.

“Fall in men!” cried Bradley, “clear those cedars.”

With a yell, which, as you all know, must be heard to be appreciated, we started down the hill into a natural cheveaux-de-frize, composed of fallen cedars and rock from the size of an apple to that of a house. We first struck their picket-line, and, of course, broke it. This increased our courage and our excitement, and so quickly were they followed that their line of support broke too. This in turn broke the next line, and by the time we had passed through to an open field beyond – a little over an eighth of a mile perhaps – we had four lines fleeing before us, with perhaps three or four times our number. It is curious what conceits will take possession of the mind at such times, but I must say that those rebels – many with dirty white blankets strapped by the middle around their necks – starting off suddenly from their hiding places and hastily striding to the rear, reminded me of nothing so much as sand-hill cranes getting ready to fly!

I notice in all the communications a pardonable egotism. We are all apt to think our particular command saved the day, and, no doubt, it did its share.

This particular charge dislodged the enemy from out line of communication with Nashville, which was held by our brigade during the remainder of the action, and it does not seem to me that it has received the credit which is its due. I should like to hear from others in regard to this. And now, one or two little personal reminiscences and I am through.

Not only do odd impressions, as before noted, take possession of us at such times, but the strangest actions take place. All who were there will remember that the pockets of rocks afforded fine places to shoot from. We came down on the Johnnies so suddenly that these pockets were frequently passed before they could be emptied, and in these traps we bagged as many foes as our whole force. The first one I came on to I well remember, for I raised my gun to fire without a thought of why and wherefore, when a poor fellow threw up his hands (he had dropped his gun) and cried: “For God’s sake, Mister, don’t shoot!” “All right,” said I, dropping my weapon; “go to the rear,” and I passed on. A moment later I noticed that my gun was not cocked.

I recall that a long-legged officer of company A, 42d Illinois (I was fairly blessed with legs myself,) and I got a considerable distance in advance, and, how we did shout and cheer for the rest to advance and connect the line. They came too. I would give a good deal for a grip from that officer – the grip of a comrade.

My other little note in your valued paper brought me two long and interesting soldiers letters. If this is the means of more, I will try and respond to them.

John Thompson
Lynn Centre, Ill.
Co. K, 51st Ill. Inf.



The National Tribune, August 30, 1884.