THE INCOMPARABLE LIEUTENANT HICKS – Part 5

This is Part 5 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’ personal account in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle. Borden Hicks was a humorous young officer in the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. The 11th Michigan is the regiment chronicled in my upcoming novel, The Edge of Hell. I’ve included some photos from my research trip to the battlefield back in the ’90s.

Our first duty was to finish the quite [extensive] works that had been planned for the defense of the city. Our cracker line to Bridgeport [Alabama] via the river road was soon cut off, and it was only possible to get supplies by a very circuitous route through the mountains to the north of us, a distance of sixty miles, and our supply trains were so harassed by the Rebel cavalry that we were reduced to quarter rations, which meant go hungry. Even a dog straying through our camps stood little show of escaping the soup kettle.

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View of the Sequatchie Valley, west of Chattanooga. The supply line mentioned by Hicks wound across these mountains.

 

A member of my company whom we called “big foot” Ennis, to distinguish from his brother, would go out to the stock corrals where they were butchering beef dried on the hoof, and await his chance for the lights [sic]. The boys said that the only way that he could cook the lights [sic] was to stand on them, and thus hold them in the frying pan.

BATTLE OF LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN

On the 24th of November, we were on the picket line at the foot of Lookout Mountain, near the Rolling Mill at the mouth of Chickamauga Creek. Here we were in plain sight and had the privilege which seldom comes to men in the army of seeing the gallant fight of Hooker’s men, until they were hidden by the clouds from our view. At night the flash from ten thousand rifles made a most wonderful display of fireworks. On the morning of the 25th, our friends the enemy, who had occupied the other bank of the creek and with whom we had been chummy all the day before while our brothers were fighting for the possession of Lookout Mountain, were not to be seen. As the mist cleared away from the summit of Lookout, we beheld Old Glory proudly waving over its brow. I took a detail and crossed the creek and advanced into the valley, but no traces of the enemy could be seen, and we came back and reported.

BATTLE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE

About 8 a.m., we left the picket line and marched back into our camp. Soon we were ordered in line of battle in front of the Rossville Road at a point about a half mile to the right of General Bragg’s headquarters. Here we waited till nearly four in the afternoon, when word was brought to our brigade commander, Colonel Stoughton, to charge the line of works at the foot of the ridge. In our front was a cleared field half a mile to a line of breastworks at the foot of the ridge, then on up the side of the mountain at an angle of forty-five degrees for three-quarters of a mile to the works on top of Missionary Ridge.

Away we went on the double quick. Soon our line met a terrific fire of musketry from the entrenched line at the foot of the ridge, and a blinding storm of shot and shell from the summit. Then we broke into a run as it was a question of life or death, and the safest thing to do was to make the foot of the ridge in the shortest time possible. Over the works we jumped and landed in the midst of our friends of the day before, who chanced to occupy this position. The most of them surrendered, but a few made their escape to the summit.

After we had remained here sufficient time to get our second wind, a voice was heard, “On up the ridge.” Whose voice it was has never been known to the 11th, but no one of the 11th or of our brigade will ever forget it. There was no faltering, though the mountainside was swept by musketry and cannon shot. On and up we went, climbing the steep and difficult ascent, when within five or six rods of the crest of the ridge the line slackened and waited for a few moments to get breath, wondering what would be the outcome if we failed, but there was no thoughts of failure.

I wish I could give you a word painting of the battle as it now appeared to us. As you face the ridge, you behold a rugged mountainside extending up and down the valley for three or four miles. This whole distance was covered by the Army of the Cumberland, whom General Grant had characterized as a ragged half-starved army, in whom there was no fight. Nearly two hundred regiments were engaged in this battle under the eye of its beloved commander General Thomas. Their line had gradually assumed the form of regimental flying wedges, with their colors forming and leading the apex, which made a wonderful sight to behold. I placed myself behind a tree about six inches in diameter. Kindly remember that I was not as fleshy then as now, and besides we had a knack of shrinking ourselves to about the size of a match when exposed to fire.

As I stood behind this tree facing to our right, watching a battery of six guns, whose position projected to our front, with my sword hanging in the left hand, a Johnnie up in front thought it would be well to pick off an officer, so he blazed away at me. His bullet struck my sword, the sword struck me on the leg, making a black and blue spot for a few days, and this was the only wound I received while in the service except the numerous times my feelings were wounded by my superior officers not taking my advice as to the conduct of the war.

I cast my eyes to the left and noticed that our colors were down. Twice before, they had been shot down, but willing hands had picked them up and waved them defiantly in the face of the enemy. Captain Coddington of Company A noticed them at the same time, and we both started for the colors, he taking one stand and I the other. Then we started for the summit, and over the works we went.

The line had been broken, and soon the enemy were fleeing down the other side of the ridge like a flock of sheep. Our men followed down a few rods. The orderly sergeant of my company took position behind a large tree, about five or six rods down, and some man up on the summit loading and firing left his ramrod in his gun. When he fired, it struck into the tree behind which the sergeant stood, and the butt-end of the ramrod whipped around, securely binding him to the tree. Tom Downs has always persisted in calling this a falsehood on my part. I told him I would prove its truth by producing the ramrod, so when I went down to the dedication of Chickamauga Park, I went to this tree, but alas, Tom had been there before me and maliciously stolen the ramrod and sold it for old iron, so that now all there is left to substantiate my story is my well-known reputation for truth and veracity.

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Marker at the top of Missionary Ridge for the 11th Michigan, which lost its commander, Benjamin Bennet, during the advance up the ridge. The day before, Bennet had said, “A lot of us will die tomorrow on that ridge. I shall not come out of battle alive.”

Just as the sun was sinking behind Lookout Mountain, we gathered around our colors, and such a time of handshaking, hugging, and kissing the Old Flag, I never saw, or expect to see again. Soon up the ridge we saw coming my servant Jim and the company’s boy, carrying between them a camp kettle of hot coffee. These faithful colored servants had brought this from our camp in Chattanooga over two miles away. The boys were welcomed, and we made out a good meal.

Now that our victory had been so complete, and the enemy driven from the whole line in our front, we must follow up our victory by pursuit. We followed five or six miles, when we came up to them on the Ringgold Road. It was very dark and about midnight. We formed line of battle facing the road. Strict orders were given not to fire without the word of command. Soon we heard the rumbling of wheels coming up the road, and we knew by the sound that it was a battery. When they were in our front, some man over on our left got excited and fired his gun, then the whole line commenced to fire, and the company commanders in front of their companies made quick work in falling to the ground and commanding, “cease firing.” We captured the battery known as Ferguson’s battery, sixty horses, one flag and sixty prisoners. The premature firing had given the Johnnies a chance to skip in the timber on the other side of the road, otherwise our capture of prisoners would have been much larger.

The next morning our regiment was detailed to guard the battery and prisoners back to Chattanooga, and thus ended our part of the Chattanooga Campaign.

As showing the depletion of the regiments at this time, I give the strength of our brigade, composed of seven regiments. We went into the Battle of Missionary Ridge with sixty-six officers, and one thousand, four hundred and forty-five enlisted men, making an aggregate of one thousand, five hundred and eleven.

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Chattanooga National Cemetery, with Lookout Mountain in the background. The cemetery is not far from Orchard Knob, where General Grant had his headquarters during the Battle of Missionary Ridge.

Next time, the commencement of the Atlanta Campaign.

For further reading on the battles around Chattanooga, I highly recommend Peter Cozzens’s book The Shipwreck of Their Hopes.

 

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THE INCOMPARABLE LIEUTENANT HICKS – Part 4

This is Part 4 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’ personal account in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle. Borden Hicks was a humorous young officer in the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. The 11th Michigan is the regiment chronicled in my upcoming novel, The Edge of Hell. I’ve included some photos from my research trip to the battlefield back in the ’90s.

 

We did not arrive on this battlefield till about 4 p.m., September 19th, having been engaged at Crawfish Springs for the day previous to this. We charged on the field near Widow Glen’s house [see my footnote], and drove the Confederates beyond the position our troops occupied.

 

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Position of the 11th Michigan in the Brotherton Field*

 

At dusk we threw up a line of works, and sent one company out as skirmishers, then the balance layed [sic] down on their arms for rest. It was so cold that it was impossible to sleep, and we got very little rest. I was informed by one of the residents of the battlefield that ice formed that night. This was told to me some thirty years after the war, and his memory might not have been good, but it certainly was very cold, especially for men who had just loaned their blankets to Longstreet’s men.

 

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Brotherton Field

 

On the morning of the 20th, urgent calls came from General Thomas on our left, for reinforcements, and our brigades was [sic] to take our place in the line. Our colonel, noticing that no troops had occupied our place and that the Johnnies were making for the works that we had just left, ordered us about, and it was a foot race for 20 or 30 rods, to see which would get there first. Whether we were nearest or the swiftest sprinters, I do not know, but we got there. In a few moments the order was repeated, this time so imperative that we had to go, and leave the gap in our lines, over which there has been so much controversy in history, as to who was to blame for this break in our lines, thus giving the enemy an entering wedge in our works. I have often speculated on what might have been the result of this important battle if our brigade had been allowed to remain, and hold this line, and thus prevent the Johnnies from gaining an entrance to our lines, and drive our right wing from the field of conflict.

We took up a new position in Kelly’s Field, just to the left of the road, where we concealed ourselves in the underbrush, and awaited the oncoming of the Confederates, who were now flushed with victories. When within two or three rods of our line, we opened fire on them, their front rank went down, the rear rank was nearly put out of business, and we captured nearly all of the balance, including General D.W. Adams, who was in command of the rebel forces making this charge. Our regiment captured General Adams, yet there are no less than six regiments who claim the honor of having captured him, but as the best proof I had his sword, other members of our regiment had his field glasses and revolvers, belt and so forth. I carried his sword on the charge we now made to the McDonald field, going into this charge with a sword in each hand, and looking as savage as a meat ax. Here we took many more prisoners. General Thomas, that grand old man and the hero of Chickamauga, was forming a new line on Snodgrass, or Horse Shoe Ridge, the intrepid defense of which was to save our army from utter defeat and route, and give us Chattanooga and give General Thomas the name of “Rock of Chickamauga” and the nation’s gratitude. We were ordered to fall back and take position on the ridge.

We arrived on the hill at twelve noon. The enemy was making for this point at the same time, as the key to our position. A fearful contest was now waged for the possession of this ridge, which is recorded in history as one of the most desperate and determined struggles that occurred during the Civil War. After the first repulse of the enemy, our lines were reformed, and we got together rails and logs, and made our position more defenseable. Here the command of the company was turned over to me, and I retained it for the balance of our term of service. Some five or six charges were made on our position during the afternoon by General Longstreet’s seasoned veterans. The slope in our front was strewn with the enemy’s dead, so thick that you could almost walk on them. Our men’s faces were black with powder smoke, their tongues fairly hung out for want of water. We replenished our supplies of ammunition and water by going among the bodies of the Johnnies during the lull between charges. About 6 p.m., they succeeded in planting a stand of colors at the toe of the ridge which we had to face for some time till our colonel [Colonel William Stoughton], who was now in command of the brigade, brought up the 18th Ohio, and with this added force of about 250 men, we charged and drove the Johnnies who were so gallantly defending them, from the ridge, and our work for the day was done.

 

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11th Michigan’s position on Snodgrass Hill with statue of Colonel Stoughton in the background, looking toward the enemy.

 

About 10 p.m., we received word to quietly leave the battlefield and fall back to Chattanooga. This was the first intimation that we had received that the battle had gone against us. About midnight, we stacked our arms at Rossville just beyond Rossville Gap. There our quartermaster sergeant met us with needed supplies, and what was better than even something to eat, letters from the loved ones at home, for we had not received any mail from home since the commencement of the campaign. After preparing our midnight meal and drinking freely of the clear cold water from the creek, we lay down on our arms to get a much needed rest.

We were routed out at four in the morning to form a part of the rearguard defense of Rossville Gap. Our regiment was posted across the highway, with our flanks well protected by the other regiments who were detailed for this purpose. During the day, several spirited attacks were made on our position, but all of them were repulsed with loss to the enemy. I well remember in one of these attacks that we were momentarily thrown into a panic and started pell-mell for the rear. It was my duty as company commander to run as fast as possible and get ahead of the men, so as to allay their fears. I overtook one of my men and chided him for running from the enemy. He looked up at me very innocently and said, “Captain, what are you running for?”

At 4 a.m., on the 22nd of September, we quietly withdrew our battery and brigade, and marched to Chattanooga four or five miles away. As we passed inside of the defenses of Chattanooga, the rebels sent their farewell compliments after us in the shape of some six-pound solid shot, and as they came rolling along the ground, our men were tempted to play ball, but gave it up on more mature thought.

*Footnote: the brigade’s actual position at this point in the battle was the Brotherton field, not Widow Glen’s. They passed Widow Glen’s on the way to the Brotherton position.

Next time: the Siege of Chattanooga

For more reading on the battle of Chickamauga, I highly recommend Peter Cozzens’s book This Terrible Sound. One of Keith Rocco’s illustrations in the book is of fighting between the 11th Michigan and the 2nd Alabama Battalion on Snodgrass Hill. The monument to the 11th Michigan on Snodgrass Hill is topped by a statue of Colonel William Stoughton, who took command of the brigade on Snodgrass after Colonel Timothy Stanley was wounded.

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GET READY FOR FREEBIE FRIDAY!!

Tomorrow, June 23, will be Freebie Friday as I run my first promotion to celebrate the re-release of the first book in the Jack Mallory Chronicles, The Prodigal.

For one day only, you can get a free copy of the e-book exclusively through Amazon.com. Follow this link after midnight tonight and download yours.

Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Just visit your favorite app store and download the free Kindle app for your mobile device.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR KAREN DEAN BENSON

Many, many years ago, I had a wonderful critique partner by the name of Karen Dean. We would meet at her house, read our works-in-progress, critique, talk and laugh. Over time, we lost track of each other. Then, like so many people in today’s world of the internet and social media, we found one another again through Facebook.

I was pleased to learn that Karen’s two wonderful historical novels that I had read portions of during our old critique sessions had been published, along with a third novel that was just released this year in her Ladies of Mischief series. So I want to introduce Karen and her novels to my readers through this interview. I’m so glad Karen and I have reconnected. She is a wonderful person, full of life, and that quality shines through in her writing.

Karen Benson

When did you first start writing? Were you an avid reader as a child?

During my troubled childhood, I buried myself in reading. I would ride my bike to the library every Saturday, sit on the window ledge, and read a book (fit for an eight-year-old or whatever my age was), put the book back, and take out the next one until the librarian told me it was time to go home. My reading eventually morphed into, “Hey, I could do this.”

I put out a newspaper in our neighborhood, and though I can’t remember what I wrote, I apparently revealed a lot of the strife in our home. When my mother became aware of what I was doing, that ended that.

As a mom, I wrote to do something with my brain, exercised it with all kinds of short essays on the behavior of my children. Five sons wrestling on the living room floor as my one daughter played with her Barbies. I typed like a mad woman in the closet.

Eventually, as my children went off to school, I came out of the closet and set up a desk in our bedroom. By the way, at that stage of my writing, I used a Royal Portable, and had to weight the top down with books so it wouldn’t bounce across the desk.

By the time I finished my first novel-length manuscript, it had morphed into 160,000 words. Roughly six hundred pages.

What drew you to historical fiction in particular? Do you read other genres besides historical fiction?

In 1972, a neighbor gave me a book–The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Well, I stooped low enough to hide behind a willow tree as the kids screamed for me. And I confess [to] locking myself in the bathroom, pleading sickness to my husband, because I could not put that book down. It transported me to another time and place.

I have always loved history. For me, it’s the beauty of the dress, the subtle innuendo with behavior. I am drawn to the elegance of a prior time. And I knew I could mold the people into the drama I created. Not only do I enjoy reading about history, I equally enjoy biographies.

I am a fanatical researcher. And I purchase old used books from all the English-speaking world. They give me the nuance and flavor of the times I want to embed in my tales.

When I use the research I need, and mix it with my imagination, I get to dance in a ballroom, ride a wild horse, sneak around a mansion and eavesdrop, discover old bones. It’s a lot of fun when you think one hundred years or more ago…

Tell us a bit about your series and what drew you to writing about these three women.

It was a lark to begin with. I wrote about Renn Arelia Sheridan at a time when I was overburdened with five teenagers and a tot; this was my escape. I love her for giving me a place to go in 1788 northern England, a sail on a Spanish galleon, then a castle in northern Spain. Her antics were a real escape for me. I wasn’t thinking publishing; I was trying to stay sane.

After the loss of my children’s father, my widowed mother moved in with me, and really encouraged me to write something else. Thus arrived Chenoa Sandoval in 1830, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel/Monterey, known then as Mexican territory. The time of the dons, if you will. I finished at about 115,000 words, and put it in a box for safekeeping.

I joined a group of writers who wanted to put an anthology together and asked me to write something short. Ha! I couldn’t think of anything short. But then I had the idea to write about Chenoa as an old woman in her late 60s, sitting on her veranda overlooking the Pacific and thinking about her remarkable life.

The publisher loved the story so much, she asked if I had written any lengthy fiction. I told her about the two boxes I had, sent them to her (digitally, of course). A month later she sent me a three-book contract, which I signed, and she asked me to come up with a title for the series.

It seemed these two young women shared an infinity for murder, mayhem, mystery and romance, so out of that came Ladies of Mischief. Now all I had to do was write a third book–Aisling O’Quinn, who is born on a ‘coffin ship’ out of Ireland, is raised in the slum tenement Five Points in Manhattan, and forced to board an orphan train.

Do you personally identify with your heroines? Did your own daughter influence your characters’ personalities?

It is said, “Write what you know.” And that is as close to answering this question as I’m going to get.

You mentioned an Irish series of books in an early conversation. Tell us a bit about them and what your vision is.

When I finished the research for Aisling’s family background in [the Midlands of] Ireland, I knew I had to write a series about the grand ol’ sod. But first we had to visit Ireland. I’ve traveled a lot of our world and gone back to a few places a couple of times, [and] I have to say I could live in Ireland.

It was beautiful, serene, inviting…simply grand. We traveled the entire [circumference]; I visited every single used bookstore and a lot of regular ones. The month after we got home, about fifty books were delivered. I spent this past winter reading most of these books, gathering my research for this new series: The Village of Hawthorn Lough, set in County Waterford, Ireland, 1799-1800s. This series will have characters that continue into the next book.

Please tell my readers a bit about yourself–what do you like to do outside of writing?

I graduated from Northwood [University], married, and lived along the banks of the Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan, for years.

Between diapering my first child and kissing the sixth off to college, [being] widowed twice, and caring for an ill mother, I wrote and read. It clearly was/is my passion. I have many dear friends, and all these adult children and their spouses, and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, so we have football games, wrestling matches, dance recitals, soccer, high school/college graduations, birthdays, guitar recitals. I am sure I am forgetting something here.

I like to say we divide our time between golf courses in Florida and Michigan. My husband, Charlie, likes to golf. Yes, dear Charlie is my third and last husband. I made him sign a 30-year contract that he would stick around for a long time. He croaked out, “My gosh, woman, I’ll be 90.” I just smiled and said, “Sign on the dotted line.”


You can connect with Karen online at her website, karendeanbenson.com and on Facebook.

 

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LAST STOP ON MY BLOG HOP

I’ve been blog hopping to promote the 2nd edition release of The Prodigal, and the last stop is today at author Kim Rendfeld’s blog. Check out my article on her site via this link, and while you’re there, check out Kim’s two historical novels. I’ve read them both and encourage you to do the same.

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BLOG HOP STOP #4

Today I’m being hosted by author J.M. Aucoin, with a short article called You Don’t Know Jack. I give a bit of a lighthearted introduction to the three main characters in my Jack Mallory novels to celebrate the second edition of the first book in the series, The Prodigal.

While you’re at J.M. Aucoin’s site, check out his writing as well. Action/adventure in the tradition of the Musketeers, as well as piratical stories.

 

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THIRD STOP ON THE BLOG HOP

Author Matthew Willis interviewed me on his blog. You can read the interview here. And keep your eyes out for Matthew’s upcoming novels about William the Conqueror!

 

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