WAR REMINISCENCES OF DR. JOHN T. HUNT,
Arriving at Stephenson, Alabama, we crossed the Tennessee
River on a pontoon bridge, the Johnnies having burned the railroad
bridge. We now ascended
raccoon mountain and went down into the valley between it and Lookout
Mountain. We were now in the immediate vicinity of, and in plain view
of the enemy’s observing videts.
Stringent orders had been issued prohibiting firing guns unless
in actual contact with the enemy. But
some of the boys, Uncle Perry Kelley among the others, found some sheep. Their desire for mutton was so strong they could not resist
the temptation. Unable to
capture them by ordinary peaceable ways they determined to have a sheep
anyhow, took their chances and blazed away.
The guards were soon after them.
They were captured and each sent to his commanding officer for
punishment. Uncle Perry was
brought in and turned over to Major Hall.
Perry being one of the best of soldiers the Major made his
punishment as light as possible, ordered him to stand on a large stump
for one hour. The boys
would pass around and bleat like a sheep, bah, bah.
It was funny to them. Perry
laughed it off very complacently. He
knew, as we all did that it was only a question of time when he would
have the laugh back on some of them.
now went up onto a gap in Lookout Mountain in the rear of the rebel
army, built fires, whooped and yelled, and had the bands play as if
reinforcements were continually coming up.
This was on the night of November 21, 1867, and was done to
create a diversion in favor of Hooker who was to assault and take
Lookout Mountain. On the 24th this movement of
Hooker was handsomely and brilliantly executed and constitutes the
famous battle “above the clouds”.
I was on picket guard duty that night.
It rained as if the very windows of the heavens were opened. My associate that night was comrade William Cook of our
company. As we stood there
in the pitchy darkness, the rain mercilessly pouring down, we talked of
almost every thing. Comrade
Cook rather saddened me by declaring that he believed we were going to
get into battle shortly, that if we did he felt he was going to be
killed. By every argument
of which I was master I tried to disabuse his mind of this idea, but all
to no purpose. The
premonition that he was to be killed was so deeply and firmly implanted
in his mind that no argument that I could think of could remove it.
morning, still raining, we started on our back track down Lookout
Valley. Keep in mind that
it rained all night, and that it rained all next day. A small stream hardly large enough to bear the dignity of the
name creek, zigzagged from one mountainside to the other with wearisome
regularity. In this day’s
march it was said by someone who claimed to have kept tally, that we
crossed this stream thirteen times.
In depth it was all the way from the knees to the waist as we
plunged in and waded through. Our
pants were as completely plastered from above the knees down with that
sticky, gummy clay as though it had been done with a mason’s trowel.
We kept on our weary, dark and muddy way until about 10 o’clock
in the night. O! My!
How dark it was! But
few of us escaped a fall that night.
Many of the expressions made that night, especially about the
time some fellow would hit the ground were more inelegant than poetical.
When we finally halted for the night I learned somehow, probably
from that element of instinct characteristic of our kinship to the
animal creation, that a pond of water was nearby.
Darkly, instinctively, but true as a compass, I went straight to
it, waded in and washed off most of that plastered mud. I then went up to where the boys had made a fire of the
“top rails” of a fence. By
this time it was snowing about as hard as I ever saw it snow, even in
Illinois. For awhile I
tried standing around the fire and drying my clothing, but it soon began
to get muddy and sloppy around the fire.
I drew back a few yards, spread down my poncho, lay down on one
half and drew the other half over me and with my cartridge box for a
pillow was asleep in a few moments.
The reader may think at first that it was strange, exceedingly
strange that anyone could compose himself and sleep soundly amid the
surroundings just described. But
when you remember that we had been on the tramp for twenty days, had no
sleep or rest the preceding night, were up all night in the rain marched
all day in the rain, wading a creek thirteen times, water-soaked to the
skin, then astonishment will yield to wonder that we did not even go to
sleep while walking along. I
have seen this happen in at least one instance.
When I awoke it was clear, the sun shining warm, bright and
beautiful, not a vestige of snow to be seen.
day we had charge of a large wagon train conveying rations and forage to
the starving army of General Thomas, who had succeeded Rosecrans in
command of the army of the Cumberland. We trudged and labored along with the train all day and until
about midnight, prying and lifting them out of mud holes.
About midnight Major Hall, former captain of our company, now in
command of the regiment, received a message informing him that the great
fight would come off on the morrow, that if he desired to participate he
must drop everything and join the brigade at once.
Accordingly he took possession of the boat that was ferrying the
wagons over, crossed the regiment over the river and joined the brigade
about 3 o’clock the morning of the 24th.
Getting a bite of breakfast we were set across the river again in
pontoon boats. This placed
us on the same side of the river as Chattanooga and the Federal as well
as the Confederate army. During
this misty, cloudy day we could partly see and hear the famous “battle
above the clouds”, Hooker taking Lookout Mountain. We could hear the cannons fire and often see the flash of the
guns through the clouds. We
maneuvered around considerably during the day and late in the evening
captured an advanced line from the enemy on a spur of Tunnel Hill, or
Missionary Ridge. We passed
the night here. What a
night it was! We could not
stay on top of the spur as there we would be in plain view of the enemy
and in range of their guns. The
side of the hill was so steep that it was almost impossible to sleep
without rolling or scooting down the hill, a very steep declivity.
I scooted down the hill once so far that when I awoke I was
completely lost from my company. When
I found them again I lay down astride a bush which held pretty well in
place. It cleared off
during the night and next morning the sun arose and greeted us in all
its beauty and splendor. It
was destined, however, that day to look down on a scene of terrible
carnage and slaughter among human beings.
this time five companies of our regiment were away on detached mounted
duty. The five companies
present for duty had a numerical strength of about 130 men.
Early in the morning we were deployed in line and sent forward to
feel and develop the enemy. Crossing the intervening hollow we ascended Tunnel Hill,
capturing their advanced line of breast works.
Had our support come up at that time, as they should have done,
there is no question in my mind but that we would have gone over their
principal line of works as easily as we had their first line, thus
doubling back their right wing and have terminated the battle in the
morning instead of in the evening as was done.
For some inscrutable reason our support failed to appear, the
enemy finding there were but few of us came out of their works and we
had to withdraw a short distance, covering and protecting ourselves as
we best could in the timber. Facing
about we made it so hot for them they were glad to crawl back into their
works. In this first
engagement two men of our company were killed – John Miller and
Robert J. Atwood. The
latter being killed inside the rebel works.
Neither of them had ever been under fire before and consequently
did not know how to properly protect themselves.
In this preliminary bout I had a very close call.
When we reached the works I was almost out of breath from
climbing the mountain side. I
squatted behind the works to get my breathing machine going properly.
I could hear the boys spatting away, and I thought I would peep
over and see what they were shooting at.
A “sun of a gun” of a rebel was lying behind a log fifteen or
twenty feet distant, and when I raised my head above the logs he blazed
away at me. He shot a
little quick. However good
his intentions, his aim was faulty.
He hit the log right under my face, filling my eyes and face with
bark and dust. If you ask, “did I dodge?” I answer, verily, I surely
did! I scratched the bark
and dust out of my face and eyes as quickly as I could, intent on
looking after the future welfare of that Johnnie, but alas!
Someone had already got him.
After shooting at me he had jumped up and started to run when
Jasper Darnell, or Wm. C. Moore, one or the other, maybe both,
terminated his earthly existence and relieving me of any further trouble
While we were waiting for our supports to come up the rebels were busy strengthening their lines in our front, no doubt strongly impressed with the idea that our movements portended a turning of their right flank. This weakening of their center to strengthen their right gave General Thomas his opportunity to strike their center. I distinctly saw from ten to fifteen battle flags, representing an equal number of regiments march up to our front. We knew this meant obstinate, hard bloody work for us when we should be thrown against them again. After what seemed an interminable delay our support came up in view. General Corse, who afterwards became famous for his defense of Altoona, Georgia, and from which circumstance (General Sherman signaling him to hold the Fort, he was coming) originated the popular song “Hold the Fort for I am coming”, came to us and director Major Hall to select twenty or thirty of his best shots and send them forward as sharp shooters, himself personally requesting us to make it particularly hot for the cannoneers. I was among the number selected. We worked our way carefully forward directing our fire mostly at the cannons, which were so situated as to enfilade our line. The bugler sounded the charge and here came our regiment followed by the support further behind. Reaching the line we had taken in the morning, the fire of the enemy seemed to be too hot for them and the supporting column stopped. Our boys by this time were well up to the enemy’s works and were meeting a perfect “hell of fire”, the boys dropping here, there and everywhere. I remember standing sidewise to a little black jack sapling, loading and firing like a Trojan. One cannon was sending compliments to us in the form of “Grape and Canister” as fast as it could be worked, notwithstanding we were pouring in a galling, withering fire into the men operating it. When one was disabled another supplied his place. One discharge from that gun hit the ground just in front of me. The next just behind me. I momentarily expected the middle to be knocked out and me with it. Fortunately for me they did not hit the man in the middle.
fighting now was terrific. It seemed to me that every limb, twig and even the small
stones and gravel were in a perfect commotion.
It was no matter of wonder that so many were being shot down.
What excited my curiosity was how any could escape unscathed.
I was among those unfortunates who received wounds, being shot in
the left wrist and put out of the fight.
I gave my gun to a comrade who had gotten his choked.
Major Hall, observing I was wounded signaled me to go to the
rear. The signal was used
because nothing could be heard in the din and roar of battle.
Firing was so intensely hot at this time that it was almost
equivalent to death to expose one’s self.
I waited for the firing to slacken a bit and when it did so I
made a dash for the rear. I
confess to going with considerable celerity.
It was too dangerous to go otherwise.
Down a steep grade I went at a two forty clip.
I came across our surgeon, Dr. Graham, who examined my
wound, gave me a drink of brandy and told me how to reach the field
hospital. Reaching the
place what a sight met my eyes. Men
were there shot and mangled in every conceivable manner.
I wish I could describe that scene so you could see it as I saw
it that day. I know I
cannot and therefore shall not attempt it.
My wound began to pain me, the pain apparently going to my heart,
was almost agonizing. I saw
it would be impossible to conceal my suffering.
Many others were much worse wounded than myself and
uncomplaining, so to avoid making a public spectacle of myself I walked
off where I could be alone, and there I remained until the intensity of
my pain wore off.
this place we were transferred to the Corps Hospital.
I now learned more of our company’s fatalities.
Among the killed were Miller and Atwood, whom I have already
mentioned, Mort Hall, and William Cook, the comrade who had the
premonition of his approaching death, which I have already related. I do not know what my reader will think of
scarcely know what I think myself.
However, in the case I have told you about there seems to have
been some overshadowing destiny or fatality, and comrade Cook had (to
say the least of it) a semi consciousness of his approaching end.
The fact that the comrade went almost entirely through the battle
safely and was then killed by one of our own cannons, makes the case, if
possible, still more remarkable. This
most sad and unfortunate accident was caused by the dropping of a shot
from one of our batteries which had been firing over our heads.
Among the wounded was C. A. Johnson, O. P. Kelley, Thomas and
Jasper Darnall, J. H. Flannigan, L. A. Johnson, myself and others whom I
cannot call to mind. Our
company’s loss in killed and wounded amounted to more than half of
those present in the fight. At
the hospital, I being able to be up and around, witnessed many gruesome
sights – the surgeons amputating fingers, toes, legs and arms, until
great boxes would be filled and carted off for burial.
I call to mind one poor fellow who belonged to the 6th Iowa. His
thigh bone had been shattered close up to his body.
He refused to have his leg amputated.
His surgeon protested and argued with him kindly and gently,
telling him that his life was at stake, that he might survive an
operation, but that without one he was bound to die.
He listened quietly and complacently, but firmly and flatly
refused an operation, telling his surgeon that he thought he could not
survive after being cut half into, that if he died he would take his leg
with him, if he survived he would have it with him also.
Personally, I do not know, but subsequently I learned that he
was now decreed that those who were only slightly wounded would be given
a furlough and sent home. Among those thus favored from our company was
J. H. Flannigan, L. A. Johnson, and myself.
I did not feel that I had any particular desire to go home at
this time, my mother having died since I was last there.
Yet, I supposed I had about as well be there as anywhere else so
I accepted a furlough and started home with the other boys.
I remember that on the first day we got as far as Stephenson,
Alabama, where we had first crossed the Tennessee River on our way to Chattanooga.
I have told you that the Johnnies had burned the railroad bridge
at this place. It was now
in process of reconstruction. When
we got on the train next day they frightened me considerably by backing
out on the unfinished bridge carrying rails for adjustment by the
workmen. It looked as though they would push us off into the river,
one hundred feet below. We
stayed over in Stephenson one night, paying the fellow who claimed to be
running a hotel seventy five cents each for the privilege of sleeping on
our own blanket on the floor, in a room reeking with dirt and vermin in
endless variety. Railroad travel at the time of which I write was slow and
very uncertain. The
Government was bending every effort to the suppression of the rebellion. Everything, even travel on the railways and rivers was
subordinated to the necessities and requirements of the Federal
authorities, so our journey home was very tedious requiring about four
days to reach Tamaroa, Illinois. We
were delayed at Nashville and at Louisville, made a detour away out into
Indiana, eventually reaching Tamaroa.
Here we stayed over night with and uncle of comrade Johnson.
Next morning we were all bustle and anxiety to get started on our
way home. The old
gentleman, comrade Johnson’s uncle, had an old rattle trap of a wagon
and team he desired to send to his farm in the neighborhood to which we
were going. In the kindness
and magnanimity of his great loyal heart, (I use the word loyal
advisedly, the reader may invert the proposition if he desires and will
doubtless be nearer the truth than I was), and prompted possibly by a
noble, praiseworthy desire of contributing something to the cause of his
country, at the same time avoiding the humiliating necessity of having
to pay some one to do the job, he made us the very liberal proposition
of letting us ride in the old shackeldy wagon, drive his team out to his
farm, paying him the modest sum of only five dollars.
We all felt that even this wonderful liberality placed a
severe strain upon his magnanimity.
He looked as if he felt he had made a mistake (after our ready
acceptance of his offer), that he could as easily have gotten ten
dollars as he did the five.
was now December. There had
been much rain and the roads were desperately muddy.
A sudden cold squall had supervened, rendering the roads very
rough. So much so indeed,
that we chose to walk most of the time, preferably to riding in the old
wagon. On the way we fell
in with Old Uncle Braxton Parrish of Benton, Illinois, an M. E.
minister. I was well
acquainted with him and had heard him preach many, many times.
He was a genial, sociable old gentleman, loyal and patriotic to
the core. I enjoyed his
association very much.
arrived at Benton in the afternoon.
I had lived in Benton for three years preceding the war and knew
almost everybody in the town. Benton
had some inhabitants who had a very unsavory reputation for loyalty.
In fact some were so outspoken in their opposition to the further
prosecution of the war, that their utterances were deemed treasonable
and they had been arrested and imprisoned as enemy’s of the Government
under whose protection they lived.
W did not tarry long in Benton, resuming our journey towards
after nightfall we arrived at Uncle Demetrius Johnsons, who then lived
on what is now called “Knob” in Knob Prairie.
He was the father of Marcus Johnson, the circumstance of whose
death has already been chronicled.
It was here I met his young widow, and as before related, the
lines of sorrow were so strongly in evidence, her grief so deep and
poignant, that I almost repented of the opportunity of seeing her.
little further on comrade Flannigan and I separated from comrade
Johnson. We were getting
near home and our roads diverged. I
went with comrade Flannigan and comrade Johnson by himself.
His home was on a southeasterly course from where we separated,
while ours was northeasterly. Jim and I arrived at his mother’s house at probably two or
three o’clock in the morning. Jim
had never been home since his enlistment.
Of course his folks were extremely glad to see him and—well, I
am not going to tell what they did when they fully aroused and found out
for sure that Jim was certainly there.
His wife was at a neighbor’s house, but was sent for, and that
is all I am going to tell about it.
I was a comparative stranger to all
but Jim and his elder sister, yet I was received and treated with
the utmost kindness and courtesy. After
breakfast I continued my journey to the settlement where my own relative
did not enjoy my sojourn at home this time as well even as I had on the
previous occasion. My
mother’s absence saddened me beyond expression. Notwithstanding, everyone treated me kindly and seemingly
tried to make me feel welcome, yet I longed for the time for our return.
In a measure I enjoyed the association of the young people.
I knew I had to back and somehow I felt that the sooner I got
back the better reconciled I would be.
At home a soldier was considered a Hero, and much adulation and
honor was bestowed upon him. Those of us who had the bump of modesty largely developed
were often caused to blush at the homage paid us by the good, loyal
patriotic people of Illinois. Do
not let this statement lead you to think that all the people of Illinois
were loyal and patriotic. Some,
even in our own county and precinct, we were told, were not only not
loyal but absolutely disloyal. Quite
a number, it was said, were actually in secret opposition to the
Government, and to further prosecution of the war against our (their)
brethren of the south – meeting in conclaves and conventions,
resolving that not “another man or another dollar should be given to
prosecute this unholy war against our (their) brethren of the south.”
We were further reliably informed that they had, and were having
and holding secret lodges under the name of Whangdoodle, Knights
of the Golden Circle, etc. etc., in which to consider more perfect
ways of opposition to the administration.
In the presence of soldiers these very fellows were all to goody
good for any thing. I
really believe that some of them possessed a sufficient amount of self
respect to be actually ashamed of themselves.
We of the army had heard many bad stories of their doings and
saying and as a consequence were greatly embittered against them.
I assure you, they received a most decidedly cold shoulder from
us. As a rule they were
treated with the utmost contempt and scorn.
Some even tried to tantalize and aggravate them into saying or
doing something in the open, evidently with the purpose of affording
them an excuse and opportunity to decrease the male population of the
community. On several
occasions these designs came perilously and dangerously near
realization. I remember one
night while at home this time, I was at Uncle Armstead Hunt’s. About dark Jim Flannigan and Alf Moore came to
our house, said they had heard there was to be a meeting of the
“Copper heads”, “Whangdoodles”, “Knights of the Golden
Circle” lodge at Mellonville, now called Flint. We all loaded up our guns.
Uncle Armstead kept a pretty good second rate armory in those
days, caught out our horses, that is Jasper and I did, and off us four
went to Crackers Neck to find the lodge.
We searched in every place it was possible to hold such a
meeting, but no lodge could be found.
If we had found such a gathering it may go without saying,
somebody would most assuredly have had occasion to regret that coming
However, finding no one we went to a frolic – a regular “Arkansas hoe down”, - the first one I had ever been to in my life, although past nineteen years of age. It was a rather droll, comic proceeding to me. There were but few persons present whom I had ever seen before, and only one young lady that I knew. Some old married men were there whom I thought would have been more in the place at their home fireside. I took no part in the dancing. I had never danced a reel as they called it, or a cotillion in my life, nor did I until after I had voted.
One more incident of this trip. The little mementos and keepsakes of comrade Cook, who was killed in the battle of Missionary Ridge, had been preserved. When I started home they were entrusted to my care for delivery to his wife. I readily accepted the trust, giving the matter no special thought. Subsequently, however, with a full knowledge of all the trust and delivery carried with it, I should have hesitated to undertake it. It was some time after I had reached home that I concluded one morning to discharge my obligation to my deceased comrade and his sorrowing wife. Mrs. Cook lived probably a mile from Uncle Armstead Hunt. It was from his house that I undertook the journey accompanied by Jasper, Uncle’s youngest boy. I had given no thought to the serious side of my visit until after we had started. Then I began to reflect over my mission. What would she do? The thousand and one questions she would ask me. All came to me so vividly now that if there had been any chance to retreat, any possible way of avoiding the unpleasant fulfillment of my obligation, I certainly should have taken advantage of it. When I came in view of her house, I saw her step to the door. She had heard of my being at home and had an inkling of my intended visit and its object. She remained standing in the door until I walked into the yard, then jumped out in the yard, threw up both hands and gave a scream that I can almost hear now. She was about to fall. I took her by the arm to prevent her falling. She partially recovered control of herself, threw both arms around me and gave vent to her feelings in the most pitiful, heart-broken anguish I ever heard. Candidly, I believe I would rather have risked my chances in another battle than to have undertaken to perform a similar kind office of friendship and comradeship.
Back to Hamilton County, IL Back to Civil War page
Copyright © 2000. All rights Reserved