The Battle of Raymond: May 12, 1863

The battle of May 12th was called the battle of Raymond. I will state here that my Company, “C”, had been detached from the Regiment and acted as a Pioneer Corps. Our duty was to lead the advance, build roads, repair and build bridges and forts, gather up the wounded and bury the dead after the battles, also to gather up and bring in arms, etc. scattered over the battle field.

About noon of May 12th we were halted on the top of a hill by the side of the road. General Logan’s Division marched by down the hill into a woodland valley where they found the enemy in battle line. General McPherson and staff were sitting on their horses on the opposite side of the road from us. It seems that Gen. Logan [p. 11] suggested to Gen. McPherson that it would be better for him to wait until more troops arrived before making the attack, but McPherson ordered him to attack at once, which he did, but being overwhelmingly outnumbered he was driven back where he re-formed his lines. We were standing in line when Gen. Logan came riding up the hill at full speed, his face aflame, covered with perspiration and dust, and his horse bleeding from a wound. He rode up to McPherson just across the road from us and we heard him say to McPherson – “Damn it, General, I told you how it would be.”  McPherson told him – “Never mind, General, it will come out all right.”

McPherson had sent his staff officers one after the other to hurry forward re-enforcements and at the time Gen. Logan rode up McPherson was sitting on his horse entirely alone, all his staff officers being sent forward to hurry the troops. Just then Gen. Quimby, at the head of his Division, came up on the double quick the men looked like they were completely fagged out. Weather was very hot and the men were so covered with perspiration and dust that it would have been impossible to say whether they were white, black or yellow, nothing to be seen of either flesh or clothing but yellow [p.12] dust, which was from three to six inches deep in the roads. They marched on down the hill and joined onto Logan’s Division.    After they had passed, Gen. Logan rode across the road to where our Company were standing and said – “Captain, can the Pioneers fight?” The Captain (Wiles) replied “We await orders, General.”  He told the Captain where to take his company and we marched forward down the hill, across the wooded bottom, through a fringe of woods; coming out into an open field where we found the 7th Mo. had been charged by the Rebels, their line broken and they were scattered all over the field running panic stricken. But it was only a few minutes until the Colonel stopped the color bearers, faced them to the front and the men recovering from their panic, formed onto the colors and marched back in perfect order.

We formed onto their left and advanced, but before we reached the enemy’s line they had given up the struggle and were on the retreat. Our Company then went to work gathering up the wounded and burying the dead and on about the space of an acre of ground we found 41 of our dead and 61 of the enemy. During the battle one of our men had [p. 13] left the ram-rod in his gun and as it happened when he fired his gun the ram-rod struck the center of a small tree – some 4 or 5 inches in diameter – the center of the ram-rod was in the center of the tree, the ends sticking out on either side, and if the tree is still standing the ramrod is still there.

May 13th – Finished burying the dead and camped in the town of Raymond.

June 17. -We have been shelled all day, luckily no one hurt.

June 18. – More shells than usual today. Some narrow escapes but no one hurt.

June 19 & 20. – Shells keep coming fast as ever.  If they keep it up at this rate, I think they will soon have them all used up.

Sun. June 21. While I was sitting in our little dou-out [?] tent a 10 inch shell struck the ground a few feet away and when it bursted it nearly buried the tent with dirt, but luckily did no other damage. One fell among some of the boys while they were eating dinner but none of them were injured.

June 22. – Whistling Dick, the gun that throws the big shells at us, is still on duty. Received two months pay today. Jim has sore eyes, balance all well.

June 23. – Think the Rebs’ supply of shells is getting low, as they sent us very few today. Raining tonight.

June 24. – Very few shells today. I guess Whistling Dick has run out of fodder.

June 25. – Everything being ready, the mine under Fort Hill- (In front of our camp) was blown up today.  It made a great racket. Several Rebel soldiers and some Darkies were blown into the air, some of them coming down on our side; among those was a negro. He was asked how high he went up. “Dun’no, Massa, when I’se coming down others were goin’ up.” [p.  20]

Our men were ready and charged into the breach but failed to get through as the Rebels had been expecting the explosion and had erected new works in the rear and were prepared to defeat our advance.    A great many of our men were killed and wounded and nothing accomplished. Our Pioneer Corps was up at the front working in the ditches, none of the Pioneers were injured and all got back to camp safely.

The Competition for the Excelsior Banner

Each regiment of each brigade competed in drills and our regiment was selected from our brigade. Then a day was appointed for the final contest.  The appointed day arrived and the regiments to contend for the prize (a beautiful new flag) assembled on the flat land just south of Vicksburg near the river. Our Colonel put us through the manual of arms and through all the evolutions possible, including charging in battle line, forming a hollow square, etc. and from start to finish we went through all the different changes on the double-quick. Everything worked like clock­work, closing by being halted in battle line and going through the manual of arms.  At all commands for the shifting of arms, every gun struck the ground at the same instant, making only one sound, and at the word – ‘Fire’ – every hammer struck at the same time.

The judges were sitting on their horses watching each regiment go through their evolutions and the high ground in rear of the flat where wedrilled, was covered by thousands of soldiers and citizens watching the contest. On account of the 124th Illinois being fitted out with new uniforms, white collars and white gloves, which gave them the neatest appearance, they were awarded the prize. Maj. General McArthur was selected by the judges to present the flag to the winners, but he refused to act. He told the committee that if they would allow him to present the flag to the best drilled regiment, he would take pleasure in presenting it to the 78th Ohio, but the new uniforms, white collars and gloves won out and the flag was presented to the 124th Illinois. They made the finest appearance but we out­drilled them to a stand-still. Our Colonel had a voice similar to a fog-horn and his commands could be distinctly heard from one end of the line to the other. [pp.  29 – 30]

The Battle of Atlanta: July 20 — July 26, 1864

On July 20th the regiment and division advanced some three miles in the direction of Atlanta where they encountered the pickets of the enemy and the Division immediately formed line and lay on their arms all night without either coffee or fire. By daybreak the morning of the 21st, the 78th and its Division charged and captured Bald Knob, a position commanding the city of Atlanta.

The enemy occupied the Knob in force behind strong earthworks. In carrying it the division suffered severely.  This position being captured, shells were at once thrown into the city by the artillery of the Division. As we were charging on this 21st of July amidst the storm of shot and shell in our immediate front, a woman bareheaded, with her hair flying over her shoulders, and carrying a little child in her arms, came running towards our lines.  So far as I know she got through safely.  Her house was between the two lines of battle.

After driving the enemy from their works, we occupied them with our Brigade – “20th, 68th and 78th Ohio and 30th Illinois.”

During the afternoon of the 21st, we could plainly see the rebel army marching in the direction of our rear.     We counted forty regimental flags.  The 16th Corps was ordered to join onto the left of our 17th Corps, the position being in the woods and the movement being done in the night, they failed to join onto our Corps, leaving a space of half a mile between the two Corps without any protection, and it was in this vacant space that the rebel army entered in their endeavor to surround and capture the 17th Army Corps.

On the morning of the 22nd General McPherson and staff rode out to the front to personally inspect our lines, and it was his fate to ride into the space between the two Corps and he rode right into the advance of the rebel army, who were entering this vacant space. The enemy fired a volley into the General and Staff and McPherson was shot and killed. His staff officers secured and brought the body back with them.

It was about noon when General Leggett came riding along our breast-works at break-neck speed and ordered the batteries to limber up and get back to the rear as quick as possible. The batteries were on the move at once. Away they went through the woods, the horses on a full gallop, paying no attention to anything in their way, running over logs, ditches and fences.

In a short time after the batteries left, the enemy came up in our rear. We jumped over our breast-works and poured a volley into them, which checked them.

In a short time another part of their army came up on us from the direction of Atlanta. We had to change to the other side of our works and drive them back. We realized then that we were hemmed in between two lines of the enemy. They charged us repeatedly from both front and rear, but we succeeded in driving them back.

To protect ourselves from front and rear attacks, it was necessary for us to change the sides of our own works five or six times during the afternoon. In one of their charges they got within about one hundred feet of our breast-works, when we poured in such a volley it halted them and while they were wavering, appearing to be undecided whether to advance or fall back, I saw one of our boys spring over the breast-works, run down to the enemy’s ranks, wrest a flag from their color bearer and bring it back to our side.

The enemy fell back into the woods out of our sight, but before they fell back one of our color-bearers peeped over the works to see what they were doing and the instant his head appeared over the works a bullet struck him in the head. Ben Saunders picked him up and laid him by the side of a tree and laid some green branches over him to protect him from the sun, but the wound was mortal. We never saw him again.

In a short time after this the rebels planted a battery at the upper or Southern end of our works and opened out on us with grape andcannister. They attempted to rake the ditch that we were occupying behind the breast-works, but by lying flat on the ground the charges of grapeshot went over us, but too close above us for comfort, the branches of trees were cut off and were falling on us.

Their battery was supported by at least a brigade of their infantry who had planted their flag on the end of the breast-works that we were lying behind, when our Captain “J.B. Mills” saw the flag on the end of our works he asked leave of the Colonel to take Co. C and either capture the flag or drive it away. The Colonel told him to try it. He sprang up, drew his sword and shouted – “Fall in, Co. C”, but it looked like it would be staring death in the face to make such an attempt, only 12 of the Company responded to the call.

Our orderly sergeant, Wm McLaughlin and our color bearer, Bro. Jim and I and eight others sprang up and charged in the direction of the flag which was protected by the battery and the brigade of Infantry. We had gone forward probably one hundred feet more or less, when the color-bearer, the orderly sergeant and one private were shot dead. We were so near to the enemy’s lines that when our flags went down they made a dash to get the flags, but one of our boys grabbed them and took them back.

Seeing the futility of any further attempt to advance in the face of the Battery and Infantry, we scattered, every fellow for himself.  We had been charging parallel with our breast­ works, so I and young Geo. Matthews jumped down into the ditch of the breast-works; we sat down facing each other with our backs against the sides of the ditch.

Just after sitting down, a bullet struck Matthews in the breast, passing out at the back. I took his belt and cartridge belt off him, using them for a pillow, laid him down and gave him what water I had which was very little and very warm. After making him as comfortable as the circumstances permitted, I bade him good-bye and worked my way down the ditch to where my Company was located.

Soon after I got back we had orders to fall back and re-form our lines. The grape and cannister from the Rebel battery and the bullets from the rebel Infantry were still coming at us in a perfect storm of death dealing missles. We were compelled to lie flat on the ground and work our way out like snakes. After getting out of direct range of the enemy, we sprang to our feet and marched back stepping over the dead and wounded rebels, which gave us the evidence that we had been completely surrounded.

We were soon out of the woods and halted and reformed our line on the edge of an old field facing south. Just after our battle line was formed, we witnessed the rebels charging and completely overwhelming the 20th Ill. which were just outside our fort on the edge of or foot of Bald Knob, later known as Leggett’s Hill. We raised our guns to fire, but were ordered not to fire, as we would endanger the 20th Illinois, who had been captured – only a very few of the regiment escaped capture. Then the rebels charged the fort which was so full of soldiers who had become separated from their regiments that there was hardly room to fight, but they did put up a good fight. The rebels climbed up the walls of the fort only to be shot, bayonetted or clubbed with the butts of the guns.  It was hand to hand, but the rebels were finally driven off.

They left a great many of their dead and wounded in front of the fort. While the fight at the fort was going on we were watching it; the enemy came out of the woods and attacked us. We were on the edge of an open field without any protection and they were just in the edge of the woods. The two battle lines were not over fifty feet apart at any point and part of the line not over half that distance.

Each side stood its ground and fought about two hours or more or until sundown. We were ordered to get down on one knee and one foot and I think by doing this a great many lives were saved by the enemy shooting over us.      At about sundown we were ordered to fall back and re-form, as our line had become more or less mixed up.

We fell back over a slight ridge and halted in a slight depression, re-formed facing the enemy, ordered to fix bayonets, then forward march. We halted on the battle line and found the enemy had fallen back. We then began to fortify and made strong breastworks. When we were falling back over the little ridge to re-form our lines, as stated above, it was when we were going over the ridge that my tin cup that was hanging on my haversack strap was struck by a rebel bullet. Luckily for me it came from an angle direction, crushing the tin cup and bruising my hip, which was black for several days, making it difficult for me to move around for a week or more. Had the bullet struck the cup squarely, it would have passed through both the cup and my body.

While we were still fighting behind the breast-works during the afternoon, I was struck on the arm near the shoulder by a bullet that had passed through the top of the earth works. Passing through the earth had flattened the bullet, thereby saving me from death or at least a severe wound. The flattened bullet after striking me, fell by my side and I picked it up and carried it until I lost it.

A bullet also passed through my shirt in front near my waist line. The next morning after the battle when our breakfast coffee was ready, I started out to find a cup for my coffee. I climbed over the breast-works and found one on the haversack of a dead rebel. After washing the blood stains off, I used it for my coffee.

The ground in our front was literally covered with dead of both sides. A truce was established so each side could gather up and bury their dead and bring in the wounded.

A battlefield after the fight is over is a terrible sight. It is enough to try the nerves of the strongest. The day before the battle I was talking with a member of the regiment whose time of enlistment of three years had expired. He said there was no way at present for him to be sent home, talked about his folks at home – how glad they would be to see him return and how thankful he was that he had passed through all his three years service safely. His Captain told him he need not do any more duty, he could go to the rear out of danger and wait until such time that he could be sent home, but he told the Captain that until there was a way found for him to be sent home, he preferred to remain with his comrades and do duty as usual.

The day after the battle when we were gathering up the dead, we found this comrade on the field of carnage with one side of his head gone. He had been struck by a shell or grape­shot. So his dreams of home proved to be only dreams and one more precious life had been laid on the altar of his country. Peace to his ashes.

The attempt of the rebel General Hood to surround and capture the 17th Army Corps had signally failed with a loss of thousands of his men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our losses were severe, but less than the enemy. We remained on our battle line until the evening of July 26th, when as a part of the 17th Corps they quietly withdrew from the front of the enemy and marched all night and until the evening of the 27th, when they halted, formed line and the entire brigade advanced towards Exra Chapel.

Early next morning – July 28th – the battle of Ezra Chapel opened on the front of the 15th Corps and gradually extended along the front of the 17th Corps, until late in the afternoon Gen. Hood saw that he could not dislodge the army of the Tennessee, slowly fell back and the battle of Ezra Chapel was another victory for General Sherman. Some of the regiments of the 15th Corps were armed with 16 shooters and the rebel dead in their front were piled in windrows. Some places the dead were seven deep, old gray-haired men and young boys were found in the piles of the dead.  [pp. 34 – 38]