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.
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.
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.