This document for personal use only!
Posted February 17, 1997 by Steven L. Driskell.

5. Chattanooga Campaign by Captain Wilson P. Howell

Fall 1863 ~ Opening of the Historic Campaign of Chattanooga which culminated in the Battles of Chickamauga on 19 September and the fight at Missionary Ridge and Lookout Point November 24th, 1863

We remained in camp near Chattanooga till about the last of August.  The Tennessee river being the line between the two armies the picket lines of each army were posted on the opposite banks of that stream.

I remember having been ordered one morning to take my company and post them as pickets on the river bank just below the city.   We accordingly went down through a corn field and posted the picket line.  The corn was in harvest and the men were longing for vegetable diet and the citizens had given us leave to help ourselves to what we wanted of that kind.

This was in August and in the corn was a fine bean patch.  The men procured a 20 gallon wash pot and picked about a bushel of beans and a lot of corn and cooked the pot full of beans and corn and we had plenty of bacon and bread.  We all had a splendid dinner.

About the 20th of July, I got leave of absence from General Bragg for 30 days, although he was known to be very short to furloughing any soldiers.  I visited my home and had a very pleasant stay with my family and home folks.

I remember when I went to Chattanooga to take the train for home, I found in a store there some sure enough coffee (our ports were blockaded and genuine coffee was nearly out of the question).  I purchased ten pounds of the coffee I found in that store for which I paid forty dollars and regarded myself very fortunate to get it.

Our third daughter (Annie Wilson) was born during my visit home.

About the first of September the enemy began to concentrate a large force in our front and soon began to cross the Tennessee river and General Bragg with drew his troops down toward Lafayette in Walker County, Georgia.  Grant and Sherman [1] had joined Rosecrans at Chattanooga and Longstreet's Corps from Lee's army joined us and on the 19th and 20th of September the memorable Battle of Chickamauga was fought.  I was wounded on the evening of the 19th from the explosion of a shell thrown from the enemy's battery, two miles away. Our line was not engaged in the battle at this time.

General Longstreet's troops attacked the enemy in the morning, but we lay in line of battle all day, but did not engage the enemy till Sunday morning 20th.  Having been wounded the evening before, I was not in the fight Sunday.  I lay on the battlefield Saturday night and at the field hospital Sunday and Sunday night.  I was able to go on the battlefield Monday.  Our troops broke the Yankee line Sunday evening and drove them pell-mell back to Chattanooga leaving their killed and wounded and a vast amount of arms and other equipage on the field.  From that wild stampede, they seemed to have realized the wisdom of that old ------- which says:

He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.

On Sunday I was at the field hospital on Chickamauga Creek to where the wounded were brought and by night I think there was one acre of ground occupied by the wounded and dying.

The doctor gave attention to those only who were not mortally wounded and although it was the 20th of September there was a killing frost.  Fires were made among the wounded as they lay on the ground to try to keep them warm and I remember the next morning quite a number had died during the night.  Among them was a fine looking well dressed New York Colonel who had been brought in the day before by our litter bearers mortally wounded and had died during the night.  The two, Dr. Fletcher and Dr. Little were the army surgeons of our brigade.

On Monday morning, I was able to go on the battlefield and such a scene of slaughter I had never seen before nor since.

There had been no rain for a month and the fighting was mainly in the woods and fire had broken out early in the day Sunday and the killed had not been taken off the field.  The clothing of many had been burned off.  The Yankees had fled back to Chattanooga 12 or 14 miles and the burial of the dead of both armies devolved on our side.

Large details of men were made Monday morning to bury the dead and gather up the guns and accouterments which had been thrown down by the fleeing and stampeded enemy the evening before.  While our loss in killed and wounded was very heavy, I think we inflicted a much heavier loss on the enemy.

I remember witnessing a very pathetic seen early sunday morning soon after the fight opened.  Lt. Renefro of 22nd Alabama Regiment who some days before the fight had got leave of absence to visit his home at Jacksonville, Alabama (his father kept the hotel there at that time) and his father had brought him back to the army in a buggy arriving there on the evening before.

Sunday morning Lt. Renefro joined his command and went into the fight and was killed on the first charge.  When I saw him, his father was carrying his body off the battlefield in the buggy in which they had come and my information was that he brought his body on to Jacksonville to be buried.

Colonel Weedon of the 22nd Alabama, a very gallant officer was among the killed on that day.  I believe he was from North Alabama. [2]

After a few days of rest and getting ourselves together, the army moved up toward Chattanooga and took position along Missionary Ridge facing that city and in full view of the federal army.  In this position we remained till November when the famous Missionary Ridge battle of 25 November 1863.

General Longstreet had been ordered with his command to Knoxville, Tennessee to dislodge if possible the enemy there.

During the siege of Chattanooga, we kept up a continual picket warfare.  I remember during this time, Lt. Gipson of my company got leave of absence to visit his home near Oak Level and on his return, my wife had prepared a nice lot of home cooked rations and other things and Lt. Gipson brought them on his return to camp.  He arrived at Chickamauga station near the army after nightfall and having no wagon to take the things into camp which was two miles away, he with several men who were with him took their baggage and belongings nearby and camped till morning and just before day they all fell asleep and when they woke up my box of home made provisions was gone.

It was notoriously believed that in our part of the army there was an organized band of camp thieves who would slip out of camp after night and would watch the baggage unloaded from the incoming trains and would lie around there till they could rob some unsuspecting soldiers just from home with something good to eat.  From what my good wife wrote me afterword they made a good haul when they got my box.

During out stay here a large number of the Vicksburg paroled or exchanged soldiers joined us.  From what we could see of the enemy, they were concentrating an immense army about Chattanooga.

Our right flank rested on Tennessee river above the city and our left across Lookout Point on the river below the city.  The main army was so well fortified along Missionary Ridge and on Lookout Point it was thought our position would be easily held against any attack.

I will now relate a tragic and pathetic incident the memory and details of which are vivid in my mind today and has been through the long years which have come and gone since their enactment.

The later part of the year 1863 was the most trying period for our army and desertions were of almost daily occurrence.  So much, so that the Confederate authorities began the rigid enforcement of military law and discipline to check if possible these frequent desertions.  Just before Grant's assault on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Point, our stronghold, as we thought, a young man not more that 20 years old had been court martialed for desertion in the face of the enemy and given the extreme penalty of military law which was death by being shot with musketry.  Quite a number of men charged with desertion had been apprehended.  Many of whom had been tried by court martial and others whose trial were pending.  Just in rear of our line on Missionary Ridge and at the east base of the mountain, the prisoners were guarded.

Having learned of the trial and sentence of the court martial as to the young man of our regiment, and the regiment had never had a commissioned Chaplain and with one exception I was the only Minister in the regiment I felt like I ought to visit the young man who was under sentence of death and talk to him about his soul's welfare.

So I left the line one evening and went over to where the prisoners were being guarded and among the saddest sights I had ever beheld was there.

While there were a number of prisoners under guard the man whom I had gone to see was sitting on the ground chained to a post oak tree surrounded by a line of sentinels with loaded muskets and it seemed that hopeless despair had settled on the face of this young man.  A man of my own company was among those on guard.  I spoke to him and got permission to talk to the man under death sentence.  I approached him and asked if he had been informed of the sentence of the court?  And he answered in the affirmitive.  I then asked if he felt ready to die, he said he was not.  He was a man of ordinary intelligence and whose opportunities for culture and moral and mental improvement had been limited.

He seemed to be so overwhelmed with the thought of his coming fate that he seemed not to realize that his soul was in peril.  I tried as best I could, to arouse him to a realization of his spiritual peril and assured him by scriptual quotations that there was salvation for his soul through the merits of Jesus Christ.  I refered him to the Thief on the Cross who was not only under sentence of death but was being executed for his crime that Christ in response to his praying forgave him and gave the dying man assurance that he was saved.

I had but little time to remain with him.  I left him with the promise that I would pray for him and and invoke the prayer of others in his behalf and if possible I would return the next day to see him.  The man of my company who was on duty there was a devout Christian and before taking my leave, I requested him that he would during the night pray with and for him and read the scripture.  So I bade him goodbye.

The next morning, I returned according to promise and while I found him sitting in the same place chained to the same tree, I needed no one to tell me that he was a converted man.

Instead of that sad depicted expression on his face he looked so calm and really had a cheerful countenance and on approaching him he very readily said he was a saved man and felt ready and prepared to die.  And the man of my company who had spent the previous night there told me he read the bible to him and prayed for him.  He was converted during the night.

Before I got through my conversation with him and the guard I heard the attack on our line and hastened back to the front.  He with the other prisoners were hastily that night sent off to Atlanta, Georgia and kept there till the following February when the converted man with three others of the Brigade who were also under sentence of death for the crime of desertion were brought back to Dalton, Georgia, where the army was then in camp and were all four executed by being that with musketry.

Shooting 4 men for Desertion

It might not be out of place just here to give a brief account of the military execution of these four unfortunate men.  As already stated after the army had fallen back to Dalton, Georgia and in camp there in the winter of 1863-4 four men of the Brigade who had the previous fall been sentenced to death by court martial for desertion were brought back to be executed.

Early one morning in February, orders were issued from brigade headquarters to the regiment commanders to have their regiments in readiness to go out to witness the execution of the condemned men.

So at the appointed hour, the entire brigade was marched out about one mile from camp to an old field and formed in three sides of a square.  One side being left open.  Rude coffins had been prepared for the condemned men and they were taken out of the guard house and the men placed in an army wagon each.

A heavy guard placed around the wagons and they were driven out to the old field and then the four wagons with the prisoner in each wagon sitting on his coffin were driven slowly all around inside the line of the brigade.  After which they were driven to the open side of the square and the four men were taken out and were required to sit down on their coffins about ten feet apart facing the square.

Four squads, of nine men each had been detailed to do the shooting.  These squads were marched up about thirty feet in front of the prisoners.  Then a like number of squads with nine men each came up and took the guns from the first squads and went off and loaded them and returned and handed the guns to the original four squads.

In loading the guns, only part of the guns were loaded with balls, the balance were loaded with blank cartridges.  Then an army chaplain offered public prayer.

Then an officer rode up in front of the condemned men and read the charges and specification of the crime and the sentence of the court martial and retired - then an officer rode up just in rear of the men who were to fire the fatal volley (the men holding their guns at shoulder arms) and gave the command Make Ready.  Every gun came down in a firing position.  The next command was Take Aim.  Every gun was leveled at it's victim.  The last and fatal command was Fire and in the twinkling of an eye, every gun was discharged and four men lay dead on the field.

It might not be amiss to state just here, that I had not seen the converted man from the time I talked with him in rear of our line at Missionary Ridge in November, till he was brought back to Dalton to be executed.  Just after he, with his unfortunate comrades in crime were placed in position to receive their doom, sitting on his rude coffin.  I went to him and shook his hand and asked him how he felt about his future, to which he responded in a very calm way and said he was ready to meet his maker.  After I had at his request knelt by his coffin and offered a word of private prayer for him and after he thanked me for my interest in his future welfare, I took his hand and gave him a promise that I would meet him in that country, where there is no wars or troubles and bade him goodbye.

Forty-three long years have come and gone since that tragic scene.  Yet no event in a life of more than three score and ten years is so indelibly fixed on memory's page as the one I have just recorded.  The bodies of these men were placed in their rude coffins and placed in similar graves nearby their place of execution.

I here and now, as I have done heretofore enter my solemn protest against such cruelty.  It is in my judgement a species of barbarism which should have no place in civilized warfare.  It has been, I know the military law of all nations to give the death penalty to the crime of desertion, especially when done in the face of the enemy when in action.  It is the case in the civil courts of the country when a man is brought into court for a crime that involves his life or liberty, if he has no council, the state or court is required to furnish him, so that he may have a fair trial.  In military courts in our army this was not so, so far as I observed.  I think other means of discipline would be as efficient as to kill men in such a barbarian manner except in extreme cases.

I now return to my narrative of the Missionary Ridge battle.

On the night before the general attack of General Grant's 200,000 men, I was in command of a picket line in the valley between Missionary Ridge and the City.  It was about two or two and half miles from the Ridge to the City.

Grant's right wing had attacked our forces on Lookout Point that evening and the fighting continued all night. [3]  I remember the moon was in eclipse that night and it was quite cold and we were so near the Yankee picket line, we were not allowed to have fires.  The enemy's forces broke our left flank on Lookout Point that night.

Early next morning the movements of Grant's army in our front (they were in full view from our position on the Ridge).  We were convinced that they were getting ready to attack our whole line.

We had earthworks at the foot of the Ridge as well as on top of the Ridge and for several days half of each regiment was kept at the foot of the Ridge to do picket duty.  The half of our regiment was at the foot of the Ridge commanded by Major Dan Richards now of Columbus, Mississippi.

Grant advanced with three heavy lines of battle.  Our picket line in which I had been in charge during the previous night fell back before the advancing column of the enemy to the works at the foot of the Ridge.  By this time our batteries on top of the Ridge had opened a heavy fire on the enemy and they were firing as they advanced.  And to retreat up the mountain to the top was very perilous.

Major Richards and Lt. Richardson together with a member of those who had been down there thought it too risky to try to gain the top of the Ridge in the face of such a fire, so they remained and were made prisoners of war and were not paroled till the surrender.

I told the men who were under me that day that they must be their own general and take care of themselves.  I had always had a most intense dread of being captured and I decided I would try my luck in climbing the mountain.  It was quite steep and rugged from where we were to the top.  Fortunately, I reached the works at the top in safety and felt almost certain the enemy could never reach the top in the face of our heavy artillery fire with musketry fire also.

But while our artillery would cut down lanes in their advancing columns they would close up and still advance.  Just before the line in our front reached us, we looked to our left where our line had been broken and the enemy had captured one of our batteries and turned it down the down the line and firing on us with our own guns.  At this stage of the game everything turned loose and stampeded down the mountain to the rear.  And the whole army went pell-mell across Chickamauga Creek and on toward Dalton, Georgia where we went into winter quarters and remained till May 1864.

The enemy did not follow us after we so unceremoniously bid them Good Night at the Ridge on the 25th of November 1863. [4]

The Yankee stampede at Chickamauga and our stampede at Missionary Ridge were similar in many respects.  Our loss in killed and wounded however were not as great as theirs at Chickamauga.  Our loss in captured was perhaps as large, if not larger than any battle before that.  This was the heaviest blow our army had ever had, but I dare say that Grant had at least four men to our one and it was not therefore very humiliating.

In two or three days we reached Dalton, Georgia and went into camp there and spent the winter.


Notes:

[1]  Grant and Sherman did not unite with Rosecrans until after the Battle of Chickamauga.

[2] The organization is the same (Official Records, Serial 51, page 15, but the division, commanded first by Hindman then by Patton Anderson, was in the Left Wing with Lt. General James Longstreet as commander.  Deas was in command of the brigade, Colonel McSpadden of the 19th Alabama; Lt. Colonel Weedon of the 22nd, but was killed, and the command devolved on Capt. Harry T. Toulmin; George D. Johnston (now Colonel), of the 25th Alabama; Colonel Whitfield Clark of the 39th Alabama; Colonel J. G. Coltart of the 50th Alabama (this had been the 26th, but there being another in Virginia numbered 26th, and older than this, it's number was changed to the 50th) ; Capt. J. F. Nabers of the 17th Alabama Sharpshooters; Capt. S. H. Dent of Dent's Alabama Battery (formerly Robertson's).

General Anderson in his report for the division (Official Records, Serial 51, page 317), says: "Deas swept everything before him without halting or even checking up in his advance to and over the enemy's first line of breastworks."

Deas (Official Records, Serial 51, page 331): I cannot close this report without testifying my high appreciation of the courage and daring displayed by the officers and men of the brigade which I had the honor to command on this ever memorable field.  They here added fresh laurels to those already won on other fields in the sacred cause of their country.

The loss of the regiment was 15 killed, 95 wounded, 2 missing out of 350 going into battle (Official Records, Serial 51, page 338).

[3] The Battle on Lookout Mountain took place on the morning of the 24th of November 1863 and lasted through the day and into the night, but there was little fighting after 9pm, and the Confederates began to leave after night, only the soldiers confronting the enemy remained until 2am the 25th.  See Stevenson's report (Official Records, Serial 55, pages 717-722); also Pettus' report (pages 731-733). Grant's army was not 200,000 strong.

[4] The enemy followed to Ringold and were there fought by General Patrick Cleburne, in which he badly beat the enemy inflicting a heavy loss on the 26th of November.  See Cleburne's report (Official Records, Serial 55, pages 753-758).

The organization of the brigade on the 20th of November, just preceeding those engagements was the same, Colonel Johnston commanding the 25th Alabama, Anderson the division, Hardee the corps.  But from Bragg's report (OWR, Serial 55, pages 664-667), Anderson was in command of Hindman's division on the 25th of November.  Loss of regiment or brigade given only in that of division which was, killed 69, wounded 463, missing 1,088 (Official Records, Serial 55, page 684).