part of a volume entitled Fifteen Years Ago: or the Patriotism of Will County by George H. Woodruff
Submitted by Merryann Palmer, email@example.com, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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A few days before Christmas, the orders received left no doubt in the minds of the men that "Old Rosey" was soon to show his hand. Sickness had reduced the regiment to 600 men fit for duty. On the morning of the 24th, orders came to be ready to move at 7:30 next morning. This necessitates turning out at five, and plenty of hard work to get ready. But at the set hour the tents have been struck, breakfast cooked and eaten, the indispensable "coffee" made and drank, the wagons packed, and every thing ready for a move. Then came orders to issue two days' additional rations, and repack the wagons, so that two or three should carry all that was indispensable - the balance to be sent to Nashville to be stored. This was also done, and the boys lay around on the ground, dozing and grumbling, until 3 p.m., when they were ordered to pitch tents again, and be ready to move at daylight next morning.
And this was Christmas eve! Every soldier's thoughts go back to the homes they have left behind them, and in many a mind, no doubt, the question comes up unbidden: "Shall I ever join in the Christmas festivities of the old home again?" Pictures of Christmas trees in gas-lit parlors and churches, surrounded by groups of happy children, and dear, dear friends and kindred, pass in panoramic visions through the mind, in strange and startling contrast to the camp, and its groups of soldiery, guns, and warlike preparations. A strange contrast, too, in another respect: There, they are celebrating the advent of the Prince of Peace; here, we are about to move forward in fierce and bloody encounter, appealing to the God of War.
Very timely, a load came in from Nashville, of thirteen boxes for the regiment, full of those things which were welcome to the soldier. They were quickly opened and contents distributed, and many had a taste of Christmas, a reminder that they were not forgotten, though far away.
Christmas day was passed quietly in the same camps, and on the evening of the 26th, by nine o'clock, the army was finally under way. The division in which the 100th was placed took the road toward LaVernge and Murfreesboro. The day was rainy and the army moved slowly, being stopped occasionally by the enemy skirmishing with the advance. The regiment passed through the deserted camps of other portions of the army, which had preceded them, and five miles out passed the last picket, and stuck out for LaVernge. Frequent stoppages were made, to allow the artillery to shell the woods to drive out any rebels that might be lurking in them to pick off the men. As they progress, they see the marks left by the artillery upon the trees, barns and fences. In the advance, a man is seen upon the roof of a house, waving a flag to and fro, and far away to the right is another doing the same thing. These are the signals from one road to another, by which the movements of the different columns are guided, and which only the proper persons can understand. And thus they move on through the day, and towards night several wounded men are seen carried back in ambulances. The men look at them, and the thought comes up in many minds - such may soon be my fate!
The 100th camped for the night in a wood, in the rain, and without any tents, a mile or two from LaVernge. The night was quiet. Next morning the men were called up at five o'clock, and at daylight are allowed to build fires and cook breakfast. They remained ready to march at a moment's notice until nine o'clock. One piece of artillery opened on LaVernge, without any response, when the brigade moves out in line of battle, the 58th Indiana and 26th Ohio taking the advance, with their skirmishers thrown out so as to protect both flanks, and, about forty rods behind, the 8th Indiana battery, supported by the 3d Ky. on the right, and the 100th Ill. on the left. As soon as the advance came within musket range of the town, they were met by a furious and unexpected discharge of musketry. The rebels were firing on our men from their concealment in the houses. The 26th Ohio had some twenty killed and wounded. But our force soon drove the enemy from the town, and marched on after them on either side of the pike. The battle of LaVernge is set down in the histories as a skirmish, and such it was, but one of considerable importance - one of the brilliant ones. The 100th moved half a mile over an open field, under a heavy fire without a waver, and when within eighty or one hundred yards, charged with a yell on the double-quick, and drove the enemy out of the town. This, too, was the first time the regiment had been under fire. When they were being halted to ref-form their lines, Gen. Haskell complimented them on their gallantry, and said: "We are all one now, old soldiers and new."
The march was hard, over rocks, and through dense cedar thickets in line of battle. About a mile beyond LaVernge, the 100th changed places with the 26th Ohio, companies A and B on the skirmish line, under Major Hammond. The rebels annoyed our advance with a couple pieces of artillery, but as soon as our battery opened on them they got out of the way. During their advance through the cedar thickets, the boys encountered great numbers of rabbits, and somehow they could not resist the temptation to pop them over, and put them in their haversacks for future use. While they were advancing, much of the time on the double thick, and driving the rebel cavalry before them, it was hard to tell whether they were popping at the rebs or the rabbits, and it didn't seem to make much difference with the boys. Gen. Haskell scolded them, telling them they would get caught with their muskets empty when they wanted to shoot a reb; but he didn't say anything more about keeping them from running to the rear, the greatest difficulty he had now, was to hold them back. About noon it began to rain, and continued without abatement until night. Several shots were fired at the brigade from a bridge which the rebels held, but the 3d Kentucky soon dislodged them without loss. While halting here the colonel left the regiment to get orders from Gen. Haskell, where to go into camp for the night. During his absence a squad of twenty or thirty rebel cavalry came charging down a lane on the left of the regiment, and as soon as it was discovered that they were rebels, Co. G, which had been sent to the flank, without waiting for orders, fired a volley into them which brought them to a stand, and they wheeled round and threw up their hands in token of surrender. One poor fellow however kept on, and was shot in the abdomen, fatally. As was afterwards ascertained, his horse was wounded, and he was unable to hold him, and keeping on past the 3d Kentucky, the horse was killed without further damage to the rider, but he had already been mortally wounded. The boys carried him to an old shed, and took every care of him, greatly regretting that they had not understood his design to surrender. He lived thirty-six hours. He was a large man of the name of Cunningham, belonging to the 52d Alabama cavalry.
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