This is Part 3 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.
BATTLE OF STONE RIVER
In December we started out on the Stone River campaign under the command of General Rosecrans. We marched towards Franklin, and then turned at right angles and marched across the country, and on the morning of the 30th were in line of battle in front of Murfreesboro. Our skirmishers were in the timber in our front. Soon a stretcher was seen coming from the skirmish line, and our first man killed was brought in, a lieutenant from Company F. As we looked on his still form, we realized what war meant. Our cheeks paled as we viewed our first sacrifice for our country.
On December 31 we held a position to the right of the railroad in a cleared field. Instead of taking a position in the timber in our front, we lay in the open field, on the side sloping towards the enemy, when we could have been protected by moving back a couple of rods, and getting below the crest or rise in the ground.
This was our first big battle and our line had to be kept straight. At daylight the Confederates charged our lines in massed columns. Away to our right our forces commenced to give way, finally reaching us, and we too had to fall back to the railroad cut. Here we reformed our lines, and took position in front of two six-gun batteries. The enemy was coming, the guns were loaded with grape and canister, and fired over our heads as we lay on the ground. The concussion from twelve guns just back of us and over our heads was terrific and affected our ears. It caused mine to ring, and they have been ringing ever since. I mention this fact as a basis for a pension. From here we charged into the cedar thicket, repulsing the so-far-victorious enemy, and leaving our front clear.
That night we moved to our left near Stone River, and on January 1 made a charge across the river with the 19th Illinois, capturing a battery and a number of prisoners. This charge was made famous by George F. Root, composing and dedicating to the 19th Illinois, the song entitled “Who Will Save the Left?” The reverses of the first day had been overcome by the victories of the second, the enemy had retired, and the field of battle was ours, and we were at liberty to move forward.
The army now moved up to, and around Murfreesboro. The 78th Pennsylvania and our regiment were detailed as provost guards, with our Colonel Stoughton as provost marshal. Each company was assigned a private dwelling house as quarters. This duty was not very strenuous, and we rather enjoyed it for the five months that General Rosecrans now took to prepare his army for a forward movement.
While stationed at Murfreesboro, my father came down to visit us. I made up a party to visit the battlefield of Stone River, getting horses to ride. I had just blossomed out in a new uniform, with lieutenant’s shoulder straps as large and gaudy as could be bought. I had never been noted for my horsemanship, and the farther we rode the more my pants insisted on crawling up my legs, and reached high water mark. As we rode through the camp of a cavalry regiment, they commenced to guy me, by calling out, “Pull down your pants, Lieutenant, pull down your pants!” Whenever I had occasion after that to ride a horse, I went afoot.
In June we started on the Chattanooga Campaign. Previous to this time we had the pleasure, as well as duty, of escorting [noted Copperhead, Clement] Vanlandingham through our lines, and turning him over to his avowed friends, our enemy.
We had a small engagement at Duck River, and then were stationed for a time at Cowan, on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, to guard a tunnel. This must have been the place where two Irishmen were looking at the tunnel. When a train came along and dashed into it, Mike says to Pat, “What are yez thinking about?” and Pat replied, “I was wondering what would have happened if the cars had missed the hole.”
We remained here till the army was ready to cross the Tennessee River. We crossed at Bridgeport, about the 1st of September. We made our way slowly up and over Sand Mountain, and one bright morning, the 8th of September, we chopped out the roads leading down the east side of Lookout Mountain, and, about two o’clock p.m., arrived in the valley at McLemore’s Cove, the first troops of the XIV Army Corps to arrive in the face of the enemy. We were ordered back that night by General Negley to the top of Lookout Mountain and arrived there at two a.m. On the 9th the regiment with the balance of the brigade and followed by the whole division again descended into the valley. Here we soon found that we were confronted by General Longstreet’s corps, so thinking discretion was the better part of valor, we fell back to the foot of the mountain where we threw up temporary works at what is known as Davis Cross Roads. Our division was ordered to fall back in echelon, which was done in a most masterly and successful manner, our brigade had a sharp and decisive fight at this point.
We had thrown off our knapsacks in order to work more freely. I had hung my haversack on the limb of a tree. We were ordered to fall back and take position behind one of the other brigades. The enemy were so close on us that the boys left their knapsacks and never saw one again while in the service. I had gotten back about two or three rods when I realized that I had deserted my base of supplies, so back I charged into the teeth of the enemy and snatched my haversack from the teeth of the enemy. This was a very brave and heroic deed, and yet it was not reported to the General Commanding, neither had Congress ever voted me a Medal of Honor, and no song has even been dedicated entitled, “Oh, Save My Knapsack.”
The various skirmishes and battles took time and gave General Rosecrans a chance to concentrate his army in defense of Chattanooga, the goal for which we started when we commenced the campaign, as when we first came into the valley, our army was spread out to the north and south some sixty miles.
(Next time: the battle of Chickamauga.)