The Diary of Pvt. W. J.
Company C, 41st Tennessee Infantry
The Annals of the Army of Tennessee and Early Western History, Volume 1, April - December, 1878
The Guild Bindery Press, Jackson, Tennessee.
|MARCH --. We have had a
week of comparative quiet since my last entry. The enemy have ceased
shelling, and it is believed that they have abandoned the idea of taking
this place at present. We have now some hope of being sent to reinforce
General J. E. Johnston, who is in command of the army in Tennessee.
Spring has fully opened here, and the woods and flowers are in full
bloom. The weather has been oppressively warm for the last two weeks,
until within a couple of days, when it has been rather cool.
April 15th. -- I have allowed a huge gap to occur in this Diary, for which I can offer a poor excuse. I have been sick with head-ache for about three weeks, until a few days ago, when it left me, and simultaneously with its departure disappeared also the feeling of lassitude with which I have been almost prostrated; but I again feel my usual flow of spirits and a desire to place on record the doings of the Forty-first. Since the bombardment of this place on the night of the 14th of March, our daily life has been somewhat interesting, compared with what it was before. The Yankee vessels remained below the point a week or ten days, occasionally throwing a shell into our midst, and finally disappeared entirely; but soon after our old acquaintance, the "Essex," hove in sight, evidently with the intention of paying us a protracted visit. During the last month, our regiment has been worked every day at the rate of two hundred and fifty men to the detail, and, when not on fatigue duty, we have drilled constantly. Our rations have improved greatly in quality, but not in quantity. We now draw bacon, meal, rice, sugar, molasses and peas, and fish are also very plentiful, but dear. For a while, after the poor Texas beef gave out, we drew spoilt pork, but it was preferable.
During the intervals between the appearance of the Yankee vessels, we have managed to pass off the time very well. The weather has been beautiful, and our minds have been kept about as busy as our hands, between hope and expectation - hope that we may get marching orders, while we have been anxiously expecting the re-appearance of the Yankee fleet. As yet no marching orders have come for us, but the gunboats have made their appearance above and below. The first intimation we had of their coming was from an order for the regiment to take position on the river bank, to act as sharpshooters during the engagement. The fleet above, after a stay of a few days, during which they sent up rockets and fired signal guns to the lower fleet, steamed up the river. After being gone over a week, they re-appeared a few days since. The situation now is: we are menaced above: by three formidable vessels, while the fleet below is in plain view and very busy. The probability is that an attack may be made at any hour. We are ready for them.
CAMP 15 MILES NORTH OF JACKSON, MISS., May 15th. -- Another month has passed away since my last writing -- a month big with events in the history of the Forty-first Tennessee Regiment, and I regret exceedingly that I have not been able to record the incidents as they occurred, while they were fresh in my mind, and before succeeding events effaced them from memory. As it is, the reports will be meager -- more so than their importance deserves.
During the last week in April, I was in the country foraging (and to that trip I intended to devote at least a page), and, on returning to camp on the evening of the 1st of May, I found the Forty-First in fine spirits, caused by an order to cook up four days' rations and be ready to march by the morning of the 2nd of May. Those who have never been cooped up in a fortified camp for four months, out of the pale of civilization and out of reach of home and friends, living on half rations, with the prospect of having them reduced still lower by the cutting off of future supplies, and in such a climate in summer, can form but an imperfect idea of the joy with which we hailed the prospect of a change of scene. Our happiness was not of a kind to be confined to our bosoms, but found vent in long and oft-repeated cheers and other demonstrations of satisfaction, as we were making our preparations to leave.
It would be impossible now for me to write a correct history of the long and tiresome march from Port Hudson to Jackson, Miss. [Was a soldier ever happy longer than twenty-four hours at a time?] How many of us started with loads heavy enough to break down a mule; how Jack Smith went some distance before he found out he had left his cartridge box, and the laugh we had at his expense; how we trudged along through hot, dusty lanes, panting with heat and thirst, breaking down under the unaccustomed loads, our feet blistered and legs swollen; how on the first day we were refused water by a wealthy Louisiana woman, whose servants kindly offered to sell it to us at twenty-five cents a canteen full; how loth we were, at that time, to drink of the dirty pools by the way-side, but had to. These form some of the incidents of the first day's march of eleven miles. Each succeeding day we suffered an increase of these hardships; our feet became so sore that we could hardly put them to the ground, and many of us threw away our shoes and surplus clothing. We had to make longer marches; our rations gave out, and the heat and dust became almost insufferable; at the same time, we had to keep a sharp lookout for Yankee cavalry; and, to crown our misery, on reaching Osyka, seventy-five miles from Port Hudson, where we expected to take the cars, we found that the railroad had recently been destroyed by a raid under Grierson as far as Brookhaven, except about ten miles, and that we would get no more rations until we got to the latter place. Parched corn and peas, with a little rice, constituted our ration at Osyka; but the next night we succeeded in reaching Magnolia, where we took the cars and rode to Summit, a distance of ten miles. At Summit we were most kindly treated by the ladies, who vied with each other as to who could do the most for us. They fed at least half of the brigade.
We took it afoot to Brookhaven, a distance of twenty miles. Here we boarded the cars for Jackson, where we arrived on Saturday night, after being one week on the route. At Jackson we were allowed to rest all of Sunday, but at five o'clock Monday morning we were ordered under arms without a moment's preparation, and had to start without cooked rations. Many of us left our clothing, thinking that we were only going to move to a more suitable camping-ground, and were not a little surprised when, after marching through Jackson in column of platoons, we turned our faces westward, and it leaked out that we were going to attack the enemy.
We had a hard march, and when the brigade filed into a field near Raymond to camp, the men were too tired to stand in line long enough to "right dress," and everyone dropped to rest as soon as halted. I went out foraging here, and was so fortunate as to meet up with some kind ladies, who gave me something to eat and a magnificent bouquet of magnolias, and one also of onions, both of which were very acceptable. At an early hour the next day we were ordered under arms, and formed line of battle on the square at Raymond. About 9 o'clock our forces met the advance of the enemy, some two miles beyond, and the engagement began. At 12 o'clock the Forty-first, which had been held in reserve, was ordered to advance and support the left wing, which was said to be in danger of being flanked by the enemy. We advanced at a quick step, under a broiling sun, through a dusty lane, for nearly a mile, when a courier came up with orders for us to return to town and guard the ordnance. We had hardly reached our destination when a second order came to file off on a road leading to the center. After marching a mile in this direction, another order turned us back to town, which we had hardly reached before we were again ordered to return to the battle-field on the same road. On reaching this point we were formed in line in the center, and then obliqued across a field to the extreme left. Here we piled our knapsacks in a heap and double-quicked a mile and a half. Lieutenant-Colonel Tillman performed a splendid maneuvre under the fire of the enemy's artillery, forming line of battle on the tenth company with great precision of execution and without the least confusion. We then advanced under fire to our position across a field, and gained the edge of the woods in which the enemy was concealed. Captain Ab. Boone's company was thrown out as skirmishers, while we formed along the road in an excellent defensive position. While waiting here for the advance of the enemy, we learned that Captain Boone was killed while deploying his skirmishers. His death cast a momentary gloom over the regiment, but the circumstance was soon forgotten in the excitement of the hour. We remained in position something over an hour, waiting for the enemy's advance, when an order came for the Forty-first to bring up the rear and cover the retreat of the rest of the brigade. It was now ascertained that Gregg's Brigade had been engaged all day, with a force eight or ten times its superior in numbers, and had successfully held it in check until it had orders to quit the field. The task assigned the Forty-first was performed in perfect order, though a Federal battery, on observing the movement, had advanced to within five hundred yards and opened fire on it as it crossed an open field. We fell back to a point four miles from Raymond and eleven from Jackson, where we met General Walker's Georgia Brigade, which had come out to reinforce us. We bivouacked here until the next morning, and then marched and countermarched along the road, expecting the enemy to attack, until five o'clock P.M., when we learned that the Yankees were marching on Jackson in three columns, each of which greatly outnumbered our force. General Gregg now ordered us to make time to this place, or the enemy would beat us there, which we did in four hours, without making a single halt.
Our sufferings during this engagement were such as perhaps few soldiers have endured in this war. The day was unusually hot, and the roads so dusty that we couldn't see our file-leaders on the double-quick. And, to make our misery complete, we had no time to drink the cool water which the ladies of Raymond had brought to the doors and the side-walks, though we were parching with thirst. Our loss in killed and wounded was slight -- not exceeding twenty-five -- but was heavy for the time we were engaged. We lost them all, except Captain Boone, while crossing the open field in front of the enemy, and it is surprising we escaped so well from a point-blank fire in plain, open view. George Saunders and Billy Floyd were wounded at this point, also Captain John Fly, who was color-bearer. Taken altogether, the behavior of the Forty-first was all that could have been desired. The brunt of the battle was borne by the Third, Tenth, and Fiftieth Tennessee Regiments and the First Tennessee Battalion -- all of which sustained a considerable loss. The loss in the whole brigade is estimated at five hundred.
The morning after our arrival at Jackson, rations were issued to us, but, before we bad time to cook them, an order came to pack up cooking utensils and get ready to move. I had just gotten a fire started and one skillet of bread down, and I never did an act in my life which cost me a greater effort than it did to throw out that dough, not knowing when I would have a chance to cook again, as the enemy was in a mile and a half, and a bloody battle was expected that day. The rain was pouring down that morning in torrents, and the roads were ankle deep in sticky mud. Notwithstanding all this, we were soon under arms, and marched from the left to the center; then across fields, knee deep in mud, to the extreme right. We heard the artillery booming away on the left as we plodded across the fields, but saw no Yankees. About 12 o'clock we were ordered back to the city to guard the baggage train, but, before getting there, learned that the enemy had possession of the place, and that the army was then retreating. We then changed direction, and filed off on a road leading north, and halted on top of a hill for the rest of the brigade to get before us. On looking back, we saw a column of black smoke rising over the city, caused by the burning of the ordnance stores. I couldn't help a feeling of pity for the helpless women and children, though the citizens had shown us very little sympathy on a previous visit.
The fight, I learn, was a very poor affair after all, as some of our troops broke and ran at the first charge of the enemy, giving them possession of the city almost without a struggle. It would have been folly to have attempted a defense against such superior numbers. We retreated slowly and in good order to a camping-ground seven miles north, where we rested and cooked rations -- both of which were sadly needed.
I never saw so many broken-down men as on that evening. The mud and our wet clothing and blankets, together with a day's fasting and a very hard march on the previous night, were too much for us. I had to eat raw, fat bacon, without bread, on that day for the first time in my life.
The next day we made an easy march of eleven miles to a depot ten miles south of Canton; rested here a day, and then took the road again in a south-westerly course for two days, when our progress was checked in that direction by a heavy force of the enemy; were drawn up in line of battle once, but no engagement ensued. We then changed direction, going north one day, then due east to within ten miles of Canton, where we are remaining at present, being allowed a day to rest and clean up.
General J. E. Johnston assumed command of the forces on last sun- day morning, and I think it is his intention to collect an army here from Tennessee and the interior, and fall upon the rear of the enemy engaged in the siege of Vicksburg. The forces are coming in at the rate of three brigades to-day, the 21st.
While marching and counter-marching here in sixty miles of Vicksburg, it is said that our forces have been badly whipped near that place, but this wants confirmation.
NEAR CANTON, May 23. -- We have marched five miles this morning, and are now in two miles of Canton. Our force is now ten or twelve thousand strong, and looking for other reinforcements. The news from Vicksburg is that our men have repulsed the enemy, with a loss of 16,000 killed and wounded. I hope it may be true.
There is a report in camp that the enemy are approaching Canton from North Mississippi, and are now in fifteen miles of us. We are living very hard at present, drawing nothing but corn-meal and fresh beef without salt. We have been able to buy bacon from the citizens until an order from General Johnston put a stop to our going out of camps. I think we will get bacon this evening.
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