This is Part 2 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’s 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.
IN DIXIE’S LAND
We landed in Louisville, Kentucky, in December, 1861, with our knapsacks. Oh no! We did not forget our knapsacks with all that they contained, besides some things strapped on the outside. They were not heavy when we started, but when we had marched from the river’s front to the outskirts of the city, some six or seven miles, they weighed a ton, on Fairbanks scales. Here we went into camp, our first experience under canvas. Our quartermaster had drawn our camp equipage, which not only embraced everything known for camp life at that time, but also five Sibley tents to each company. After many a mishap, we finally got our five tents in a line as straight as a rail fence. As we looked inside of the tents, our future homes, we wondered what we were going to sleep on. No feather beds, not even straw. Did the government expect us to sleep on the bare ground? One old man who had seen service in the Mexican War assured us that soldiers in the field always slept on the ground. That settled it, and we bravely though with much discomfort carried out his assertion–our first night under canvas.
In a few days we were ordered to Bardstown, Kentucky. This was a two-day’s march. When we thought of our sore experience in carrying knapsacks through the city of Louisville, we informed the Captain that we did not enlist to be a government pack mule, and that he must hire a farmer to haul our knapsacks, or we would break our guns around a tree, and go right home. Our Captain very graciously listened to our terms and hired a team (pity we could not have gone that way all through the war). As we entered the town, we marched past the general-in-command, in company front, as our adjutant who had seen service in the Mexican War knew what was proper and according to Scott’s Tactics gave the command “Present arms” and thus we marched by, to the amusement of the other regiments that were looking on.
SMALL-POX AND MEASLES
At this place the very mild form of “chicken pox” (at least that is what the surgeon called it to allay our fears) that had bothered us in our camp at White Pigeon broke out in the genuine small-pox, and we were quarantined in a camp all by our lonesome, where we lost more men by measles and small-pox than from all other causes during our term of service.
RAILROAD GUARD DUTY
From Bardstown we were ordered over onto the Louisville & Nashville Railway to do guard duty on that line. Here we relieved the 3rd Minnesota; our stations were from Shepherdsville on the Salt River to Bowling Green.
JOINING THE FIGHTING ARMY
Late in the spring of 1862, we took boats at Louisville and steamed down the Ohio River and up the Cumberland to Nashville. We marched out as far as Columbia on the Duck River, then back to Nashville, then to Murfreesborough, where we arrived the next day or two after the surrender of the 3rd Minnesota and the 9th Michigan, then back again to Nashville. We made one raid all over Kentucky after John Morgan, but it was a case of infantry chasing cavalry–the bird had always flown just before we got there.
OUR FIRST BATTLE
Our first battle was a bloodless one, so far as we knew. It was at Galatin, Tennessee, on the Louisville & Nashville Railway. We were loaded on flat coal cars and, arriving at the supposed camp of the enemy, were disembarked and formed in an open field, where we could see the town in the distance. We saw, or thought we saw, some men between us and the town. We blazed away at them with our Belgian muskets. The section of artillery that we had with us threw solid shot and shells at them. The firing hurt us sorely and frightened the enemy if there was one, so that they ran away, taking their dead and wounded with them. At least that is what we claimed, as no dead or wounded were left for us to take care of. Our men broke into stores, and as usual loaded up with some things they could not carry. I do not mean the liquid stores, but rather heavy articles such as grindstones, anvils, and the like.
About this time we were brigaded with the 69th and 18th Ohio, and the 19th Illinois, to be known as the 29th Brigade.
We formed a part of General Negley’s division and were assigned the duty of defending Nashville while Generals Buell and Bragg made their running fight up to Louisville and back. We were shut off from communication with the North for about 90 days, and had to forage from the surrounding country for most of our supplies. During one of these foraging expeditions, we had a little fight at Fort Riley.
(Next time: “Battle of Stone River.”)