ALEXANDER HAMILTON’S HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

“Who needs surnames? They’re never our own anyway.”  — Patricia MacPherson, Barbados Bound, by Linda Collison.

Collison

Today I’m hosting a guest blog, written by author Linda Collison. Linda’s most recent historical novel, Rhode Island Rendezvous (the fourth in her Patricia MacPherson adventure series), includes an intriguing true-life character–the mother of Alexander Hamilton, Rachel. Read on to find out how Linda discovered Rachel, a woman who faced great social adversity, raising America’s famous Alexander virtually alone.

 

RiR cover

Fifteen years ago my husband Bob and I made landfall on Nevis, via ferry from Basseterre, St. Kitts.  At the time, I was writing what would soon be published as Star-Crossed (more recently republished as Barbados Boundfirst of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.) In exploring Nevis and the surrounding island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), we experienced the somewhat sleepy, colorful atmosphere of the Present and uncovered traces of the island’s rich, tragic Past.  I was seeing firsthand places I had researched, deeply imagined; places that served as the setting to my historical novel-in-progress.  I walked along the very beach where my protagonist, Patricia, washed up, clinging to a wine cask, her ship having caught fire after hitting the reef.

Nevis

Island of Nevis – (Wikimedia)

It was along Charlestown’s picturesque waterfront where Bob and I discovered the Museum of Nevis History, the stone house where Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757 (or possibly 1755).

Nevis Museum

Museum of Nevis History

The museum is actually a replica of the house Alexander Hamilton’s mother inherited, the original building having been long ago destroyed by an earthquake.  The two-story Georgian-style house and the simple exhibits within stirred my imagination. Realizing the dates coincided with my novel-in-progress, I knew the boy Alexander would make an appearance in Patricia’s developing storyline.

The name Hamilton is familiar to Americans – if many have forgotten why.  This “founding father” was never President of the United States. He served as an aide-de-camp to General Washington, then commanded an infantry battalion at Yorktown. He was the primary author of the Federalist Papers, a collection of articles, essays and letters that helped ensure the ratification of the United States Constitution. Hamilton was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, helping to secure the new nation’s economy. He championed the first national bank, founded the U.S. Coast Guard, and introduced a bill to establish West Point Military Academy.  Hamilton was also an early member of the New York Manumission Society which founded the African Free School and lobbied for a state law to abolish slavery in New York. If students of American history remember little else about Hamilton, they mostly remember he was killed by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel (Weehawken, New Jersey; July 11, 1804).

10 dollars

What serendipity, I thought: finding Hamilton, ready to play a small part in my historical fiction adventure.  But the more I learned about him, the more curious I became about Rachel, his mother.  The old (sexist) saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman,” came to mind more than once.  As I went through the museum, smelling the sea air and the damp volcanic rock that permeated the floors, the walls, every artifact, I wanted to know more about her forgotten life. I wanted to hear Rachel’s story.

Hamilton bill

Flash forward fifteen years to 2018. Hamilton – the acclaimed musical – is stirring up a fresh appreciation for America’s revolutionary history. This year Lin-Manuel Miranda’s re-imagined hip-hop musical will be performed in cities all across America.  The name Hamilton is trending on social media – and who hasn’t heard of Miranda, the New York-born playwright? Miranda credits Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton, as his inspiration, and I too, found the book extremely valuable in my research of Rachel and the young Alexander. (Chernow, Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books; 2004)

Without a doubt, Alexander Hamilton is a notable American; nearly every adult American knows his name and recognizes his face, even if they’re a little sketchy on the details of his life. Yet few have heard of Rachel, the woman who gave birth to and raised him. And like many women today, she assumed more than one last name during the course of her life.  Born Faucette, married Lavien, lived with and assumed the name Hamilton. Only the name Rachel remained unchanged.

I am continually struck by the power of a surname — and by our patrimonial custom of giving children their father’s surname. James Hamilton was absent for much of Alexander’s life, did very little to provide for his family and may not have even been Alexander’s biological father. Yet his family name – Hamilton – that’s the name that’s remembered.  The name of the woman who raised him has been largely forgotten.

Rachel was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis to an Englishwoman, Mary Uppington, and her French Huguenot husband, John Faucette. The Faucettes owned a small sugar plantation and at least seven slaves. They had seven children but only two – Anne and Rachel — survived.  Her parents separated at some point.  Anne married and when John Faucette died, the teenaged Rachel inherited all his property (Chernow; Alexander Hamilton).

Once Rachel had secured an inheritance, her mother wanted to find her a suitable match.  On St. Croix, they were introduced to Johann Michael Lavien, the lucky man who eventually won her hand. Lavien was a small-time planter with pretensions, no doubt glad for the modest inheritance Rachel brought to the marriage. One child, Peter, was born of the union, which was otherwise a disaster.

Lavien denounced his wife as a “whore” and had her thrown in the Christiansted jail for the crime of adultery.  Upon her release several months later, Rachel fled – first to St. Kitts, later to Nevis – leaving her first-born son Peter with his father. There she met James Hamilton, fourth son of a Scottish laird, who had connections but no money, no means, and no luck. He was a decent sort, serving as Rachel’s protector and common law husband, and giving Rachel’s out-of-wedlock sons his surname.

Fort

Christiansvaern, the Danish fort on St. Croix where Rachel was imprisoned for adultery. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

“James Hamilton had the manners of a gentleman but was a failed adventurer who had to continually be bailed out of bad business deals by his relatives,” Alexander Hamilton wrote.

After divorcing Rachel, Lavien remarried. Rachel returned to St. Croix with James, who had a business assignment in Christiansted. The couple planned to be legally married, having lived for many years on Nevis as man and wife by common law. But James and Rachel were denied a legal marriage; by Danish law Rachel could never marry again. After completing his business assignment, James Hamilton left St. Croix, never to return, leaving Rachel to raise James and Alexander the best she could.

Alexander had this to say in a letter he wrote to a relative, decades later: “You no doubt have understood that my father’s affairs at a very early day went to wreck, so as to have rendered his situation during the greatest part of his life far from eligible. This state of things occasioned a separation between him and me, when I was very young.”  (The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Ed. Harold C. Syrett et al. 27 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-1987)

Rachel went into business on her own, running a store to provide for her sons James and Alexander. Among other qualities she instilled in Alexander were a love of books and a desire to learn.

Alexander ’s grandson, in his biography of Hamilton, described Rachel (whom he never knew personally),  as “a woman of superior intellect, elevated sentiment, and unusual grace of person and manner. To her he was indebted for his genius.” (Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton. Vol 1, p. 42).


Watch for more about Rachel and her son Alexander in book 4 of Linda Collison’s series.

For information about Linda Collison and her writing, including her excellent Young Adult books, visit her website: www.lindacollison.com

 

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THE INCOMPARABLE LIEUTENANT HICKS – Part 7

This is Part 7 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. The photos included in this article are my property, taken during my research trip.

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Just when I was wondering if I was following the correct route taken by the 11th Michigan, I came across this marker to confirm I was on the right path. The regiment was in Johnson’s Division of Palmer’s XIV Corps.

RESACA

Our next engagement was at Resaca, although we were under fire every day from the beginning of the campaign till the fall of Atlanta, some 120 days. It was our good fortune not to be actively engaged in this battle. Our position in line was such that we could see the fighting on our left as well as in our front.

It is related of the battle of Resaca that some time after the war two men were traveling on the cars, and occupied the same seat. These men had both been in the army, one a Confederate and the other a Union soldier. The conversation naturally drifted on their wonderful experiences while in the army, the Johnnie telling of being on the skirmish line at the battle of Resaca. He had finally got a dead bead on the Union soldier in the pit in his front, and was just ready to pull the trigger, when he heard a sweet plaintive voice coming from the Union pit, at first very soft and low, and gradually gaining strength and volume, until it came in triumphant tunes:

Jesus lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosum fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, oh my Savior hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Cover my defenceless head,
With the shadows of Thy Wings.

(Learn more about this famous hymn here.)

The Johnnie said that he lowered his gun, for he could not shoot a man who put his trust in a protecting Savior. As he finished his recital, the Union soldier grasped him by the hand and said that he was the Union soldier, and then related his experience, saying that he had been in the service over two years, and in a number of hotly contested battles, that when he was detailed for the skirmish line that morning, he was very weak and depressed, and could hardly support his body till he arrived in the skirmish pit, then his thoughts turned to his beloved Savior, and commenced to sing that comforting hymn, and as he finished the verse, his courage and strength came back to him, and he was again a veteran soldier.

Somewhere on this campaign, we took up a position in the woods, and built strong works. We were so close to the Confederates that we had to lay low during the days.

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Creek at Pickett’s Mill battlefield

This place went into history with us as the one position where more of the enemy were slaughtered than we could get any record of, for we spent our days in slaying every able-bodied Gray Back that showed his head, but alas the next morning when we opened our eyes, their place was filled by an army of nits, so we gave this place the uphoneous [sic] name of “Lousy Ditch,” and ever after if anyone said to us Lousy Ditch, we replied, “Nit.”

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Looking down the length of an old trench, located in the vicinity of the 11th Michigan’s position at Pickett’s Mill, possibly the Lousy Ditch itself,

One night while occupying this position with this suggestive name, I was placed in charge of the skirmish line. It was in heavy timber and of course very dark. In going from one post to another, I got outside of our line, and when I realized the fact, I was so badly frightened that my hair stood on end and has stood that way ever since, compelling me to have it cut pompadour.

KENNESAW MOUNTAIN

Near Kennesaw Mountain, where the Rebel General Pope was killed by a cannon shot aimed at his group of officers as he stood out on the mountain side, word came to us one morning that one division of the Fourteenth Army Corps would make a charge on the works of the enemy and try and break through their line of works. Our skirmishers were detailed and reported to Brigade Headquarters, and assigned their place in front, and then we stood and waited nearly all day long for the command to charge. The works in our front were not over four rods apart, and we knew that it meant death to the charging column. It was the most trying day that we experienced in our whole term of service. It is a well-known fact that when men are under intense excitement and danger, but from necessity inactive, that nature will assert her claims, so our line was depleted from time to time by men falling out and going to the rear, but always reporting back in a few moments. Fortunately for us, another division made the charge and were badly cut up and defeated, as is most always the case in charging fortified positions.

BATTLE OF PEACH TREE CREEK

General Hood had succeeded General Johnston in command of the Confederate Army and signalized that event by taking the offensive and trying to break through our lines. We were stationed on the right wing of our army, where we had a severe engagement in the morning. We were ordered from the right wing to the left to fill a gap that had been overlooked in the alignment of our army. The importance of this position was such that we were moved by the shortest line, which led us just in rear of our men of the Twenty-third Army Corps, who were resisting the massed columns of General Hood, who were trying to break our line. This gap in our line proved to be in a blackberry patch or field. It was doubly welcome to us, not only as food, but on account of their well-known medicinal qualities as an astringent.

Next time: the Battle of Atlanta.


For more reading about the battle of Resaca: The Civil War Trust

For more reading about the battle of Pickett’s Mill: Pickett’s Mill Battlefield . This battlefield is one of my all-time favorites. The park service has tried to keep it as pristine as possible, not even allowing monuments.

For more reading about the battle of Kennesaw Mountain: National Park Service

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COMING IN 2018!

Just a quick teaser to let you know my fourth novel will be released in 2018. It will be entitled The Driver’s Wife.

The story is a spin-off from my Jack Mallory trilogy. Readers will revisit Leighlin Plantation and many of the characters introduced in my previous novels, along with some new ones.

Stay tuned for more details!

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THE INCOMPARABLE LIEUTENANT HICKS – Part 6

This is Part 6 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.

WINTER AT ROSSVILLE

The next move was to reorganize the army, for the spring campaign, provide the men with much needed clothing, and completely renew the motive power of the Army of the Cumberland, consisting of horses for the batteries, and mules for the transportation.

Our brigade was now made up of the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th Regulars and our lone Volunteers, the 11th Michigan. The brigade was made an outpost at Rossville, at Rossville Gap that played such an important part in the Battle of Chickamauga.

Rossville existed in location and name only, it being the home of a Mr. Ross, who had quite a palatial house, which was made use of for a hospital. Rossville lays to the south of Chattanooga about five or six miles.

Here we went into winter quarters and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. Our duty was outpost picketing, with a little drilling.

New Year’s day 1864 was one of the coldest days we experienced in the Southland. In February, I with four or five other line officers who had been promoted to captaincies went down to Chattanooga and were mustered in on our commissions as captains, I having been in command of my company since the Battle of Chickamauga.

RECRUITS FROM THE NORTH

Here we received a detachment of recruits, 150 to 175 in number, some twenty-five of these were assigned to my company, by their choice, one of that number being Dean John F. Downey of our State University. As they marched into camp and were drawn up in line, we gathered around to see what kind of soldiers they would make.

John, seeing one of Company E that he knew, called to him and asked which one of the officers was Captain Hicks? The man pointed me out to him. When John had sized me up, his face took on a disappointed look, for he had pictured to himself a good looking, tall, robust, fully developed man, one with the stern commanding look of a war god, whose every motion and aspect was of one dying for a fight, one who at least ought to be able to support a mustache. The contrast was too much for John, and he says what? that young, smooth-faced, green-looking boy Captain Hicks! Yes, the man says, and if you follow where Captain Hicks leads, you won’t be far from the front when there is a chance for a good fight.

I got even with John for his poor opinion of my military appearance by detailing him into the Regimental Pioneer Corps and arming him with an ax and spade. John made a good soldier, one who was always ready for duty and never dodged danger. He could cut more logs and make the dirt fly faster than any other man in the corps. He was discharged at the end of the war with the rank of high private in the rear rank.

I have always patted myself on the back for the brilliant success that John has made in mathematical lines, for I took great pains in coaching him on applied mathematics, explaining solid shot, the horsepower with which he would have to wield the ax when cutting logs for a breastwork to defend his captain, and the number of pound pressure that would be required to insert the spade in the dirt, and the force measured in horsepower that would be required to lift it to the breastworks, in order that it might be absolutely safe. This coaching in mathematical lines gave John an insight into and a desire to further pursue the study of mathematics, so that when he was discharged, he at once took up the study of that line and became Professor of Mathematics, and is now Dean of the Academic Department of our State University.

ATLANTA CAMPAIGN

On the 15th of March, 1864, we broke camp to join the army under the command of General Sherman on the Atlanta Campaign. Our first bivouac was at Graysville, Georgia, and in the morning when I was detailed in charge of the picket line, there was a foot of snow on the ground. Of course it was all gone before night.

BUZZARDS ROOST

Our first battle on this campaign was at Rocky Face or Buzzards Roost. When the attack was made on the Rocky Face, our position in line was such that it brought us in the gap where the railway and highway roads run. This proved to be a veritable hornets nest, and we were very glad that we were not required to knock the nest down. We held the attention of the enemy for two or three days till General Sherman, that prince of flankers, made a flank movement to our right, and getting possession of Snake Creek Gap, threatened the rear of General Johnston’s army, by cutting off his supplies, so they pulled out, leaving our way through Buzzard Roost unmolested, even by hornets.

Next time: the battles for Atlanta.

For additional reading about the Atlanta Campaign, I highly recommend Albert E. Castel’s Decision in the West: the Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

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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.

Keogh - PRODIGAL - Website Cover (600x400)

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