part of a volume entitled History of the Ninety - Third Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry: From Organization To Muster Out --Statistics Compiled by Aaron Dunbar Sergeant, Company " B", Revised and Edited by Harvey M. Trimble, Adjutant
Submitted by Jeffrey MacAdam, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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Part 3 of 5 of Chapter V.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, A. D., 1863
The day had come which was to end the struggle of Mission Ridge. The sky was clear, and the air fresh and bracing. The only clouds in sight were clouds of war, the only thunder heard was the roar of cannon, the only storm apprehended was a storm of leaded hail and shot and shell and shrapnel and grape. The clouds of war were there, and the thundering of Sherman's guns foretold the coming storm. During the entire forenoon the Ninety-Third Illinois (and the Third Brigade) waited, under arms, for the call to battle. It was sure to come, and did come at 1 o'clock p.m. The battle-line was then formed, at the edge of the woods that bordered a broad open field, which laid directly in front of that portion of Mission Ridge north of the railroad tunnel and south of the south end of the mountain spur that laps the Ridge, the foot of the Ridge, across that open field, was nearly a half mile away, and the crest of it more than six hundred feet above. Half way up, there was a white house and a portion of a rail fence. The corps of Hardee and Buckner were massed behind the Ridge and their batteries were on its crest. They gave fair warning that every foot of ground in their front was measured, and within their range, by throwing two shells, each of which exploded fairly in the line of the Tenth Iowa. Whole brigades of the enemy were moving to their extreme right, and were plainly seen as they passed the depression in the Ridge just over the tunnel. The Army of the Tennessee was threatening the Dalton road. If that should be lost, Bragg's army would be hopelessly undone. The necessity of holding it, caused the enemy to weaken his left and center and concentrate his forces at this point on the Ridge. Nearly if not fully one-half of all his troops were now confronting the Army of the Tennessee. The hand on the dial marked the time at the half hour, after 1 o'clock. The order is given, and this command goes into the battle. The Ninety-Third Illinois is again on the left of the brigade, the Tenth and Fifth Iowa in the center, and the Twenty-sixth Missouri on the right. The order was, to move across that open field, and to the line of that white house and rail fence, half way up the Ridge, and engage the enemy from that position. The line advanced, in quick time, the left of the Ninety-Third Illinois passing close to the south end of the mountain spur. When the spur was passed, the whole brigade moved obliquely to the left for some distance, and then began the ascent of the Ridge. Under a deadly fire, the line of the white house and rail fence was reached--and passed--and on and up, and still on, and still up, without halting, that bleeding brigade still climbed and rose and fought its way to the very crest of the Ridge, nay, to the very jaws of certain death, to the very summit of those embattled heights blood-red with flames of fire from hostile guns and swept by shot and shell and fairly trembling beneath the surges of the conflict. And there, within twenty paces of the enemy's lines, with only the very crest of the mountain between, baptized in blood, and falling and dying here and there and everywhere, for two hours and a half, the battle is maintained.
It was a most desperate struggle, if not a useless one. Why the brigade went up to that position, exceeding its orders, was never very clearly told. All those who were responsible for it, as well as those who were responsible that it should not have been, have long since joined the majority on the other side the Silver River, and criticism, now, stands silent on the nearer shore. How the position was ever reached "in the teeth of the storm no man can tell!" General Grant, from his position, then on Orchard Knob, was watching the movements on the left, and when he saw this brigade pass the line of the white house, moving still on and up the Ridge, he impatiently inquired: "Who ordered that? Who ordered that?" and then exclaimed : "They cannot go up there! They cannot go up there!" But they did go up to the very crest! After the position was reached, and steady fighting had been continued for some time, General Grant lowered his field glass and said: "They cannot stay there long! They will have to go down!" But they did stay there two hours and a half! Two hours and a half! A century of peace contains less time! They knelt there, "at the crimson shrine," as at an altar of sacrifice, and many of them "never rose from worshipping." And still the battle raged on.
Let us now turn aside from this portion of that great battlefield, which is elsewhere and everywhere crimson with bright red blood, and listen to the recital of the marvelous struggle as told by the gifted and eloquent Taylor. He can be heard, even above the din and rattle of musketry and the thunders of artillery, furious and tumultuous as they still are all along the crest of Mission Ridge north of the railroad tunnel. He wrote as follows:
"If seeing for one's self is an art, seeing for another is a mystery, requiring, I mistrust, a better pair of eyes than mine. But if my readers will accept a straightforward, simple story of what one man saw of Wednesday's work, as bare of embellishment as the bayonets that glittered to the charge, here it is. You are standing again on Orchard Knob, the center of our line of advance; Mission Ridge is before, Fort Wood behind; the shining elbow of the Tennessee to the left; Lookout to the right. Never was theater more magnificent. Never was drama worthier of such surroundings.
"The same grand heroic line of battle, but a little longer and stronger, silently stretches away on either hand. For the center, you have the corps of Howard, the divisions of Baird and Wood and Sheridan and Johnson, and King's brigade of regulars. And then, at the tips of the wings, on farthest left and right, are Sherman and Hooker. That potion of the line distinct from where you stand--how rich the homes of Illinois have made it! Seventeen regiments--each with its tale of battle, its roll of honor and its glorious dead--how glows the glittering line! Illinois was on Lookout yesterday; Illinois is over there with Sherman to-day. God bless the mother--God save the sons!
"Imagine a chain of Federal forts, built in between with walls of living men, the line flung northward out of sight, and southward beyond Lookout. Imagine a chain of mountains crowned with batteries and manned with hostile troops through a six-mile sweep, set over against us in plain sight, and you have two fronts--the blue, and gray. Imagine the center of our line pushed out a mile and a half toward Mission Ridge--the boss, a full mile broad, of a mighty shield--and you have the situation as it was on Wednesday morning, at sunrise.
"The iron heart of Sherman's column began to audible, like the fall of great trees in the depth of the forest, as it beat beyond the woods on the extreme left. The roar of his guns was like the early striking of a great clock, and it grew nearer and louder as the morning wore away. Along the center all was still. Our men there lay, as they had lain since Monday night, motionless behind the works. General Grant, Thomas, Granger, Meigs, Hunter, Reynolds, were grouped at Orchard Knob, here; Bragg, Breckenridge, Hardee, Stevens, Cleburn, Bates, Walker, were waiting on Mission Ridge, yonder. And Sherman's Northern clock tolled on!
"At 1 o'clock, the signal-flag at Fort Wood was a -flutter. Scanning the horizon, another flag, glancing like a lady's handkerchief, showed white across a field lying high and dry upon the Ridge three miles to the northeast, and answered back. The center and Sherman's corps had spoken. As the hours went by, all semblance to 'falling trees and tolling clocks had vanished; it was a rattling roar; the ring of Sherman's iron knuckles knocking at the northern door of Mission Ridge for entrance. Moving nearer the river; I could see the breath of Sherman's panting artillery, and the fiery gust from the enemy's guns on Tunnel Hill, the point of Mission Ridge. They had massed there corps of Hardee and Buckner, as upon a battlement, utterly inaccessible, save by one steep, narrow way, commanded by their guns. A thousand men could hold it against a host. And right in front of this bold abutment of the Ridge is that broad, clear field, skirted by woods. Across this tremendous threshold, up to death's door, moved Sherman's column. Twice it advanced, and twice I saw it swept back in bleeding lines before the furnace-blast, until that russet field seemed some strange page ruled thick with blue and red. Bright valor was in vain. It was the devil's own corner. Before them was a lane whose upper end the rebel cannon swallowed. Moving by the right flank or the left flank, nature opposed them with precipitous heights. There was nothing for it but straight across the field swept by an enfilading fire, and up to the lane down which drove the storm." It was across that "broad, clear field," up that "lane whose upper end the rebel cannon swallowed," into that "devil's own corner," over that "tremendous threshold, up to death's door," into that "russet field ruled thick with blue and red," at the very crest of that "bold abutment of the Ridge," the Third Brigade, including the Ninety-Third Illinois, was sent; and it was there, on that very crest, they were fighting when we left them to recite the eloquent story of Mr. Taylor. The two hours and a half that they remained there have not yet expired; they are there still; and we leave them there, in that terrific storm; yet a little while, and proceed with Mr. Taylor's story of the day:
"If Sherman did not roll the enemy along the Ridge like a carpet, he at least rendered splendid service, for he held a huge ganglion of the foe as firmly on their right as if he had them in the vice of the 'lame Lemnian,' who forged the thunderbolts. And Illinois was there too, with her veterans. The Tenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-sixth, Thirty-fourth, Fortieth, Forty-eighth, Fifty-fifth, Fifty-sixth, Sixtieth, Sixty-third, Seventy-eighth, Eighty-second, Eighty-fifth, Eighty-sixth, Ninetieth, Ninety-Third, One Hundred and First, One Hundred and Third, One Hundred and Tenth, One Hundred and Sixteenth, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth, and One Hundred and Twenty-seventh regiments were all there. Such was the magnificent material from the Army of the Tennessee. I thank God that not a tithe of them could be called into action; the day was won without it. To living and dead in the commands of Sherman and Howard who struck a blow that day--out of my heart I utter it--hail and farewell! And as I think it all over, glancing again along that grand heroic line of Federal Epic, I commit the story with a childlike faith to History, sure that when she gives her clear, calm record of that day's famous work, standing like Ruth among the reapers in the fields that feed the world, she will declare, that the grandest staple of the great Northwest is man!
"The brief November afternoon was half gone; it was yet thundering on the left; along the center all was still. At that very hour Hooker's forces were making a fierce assault upon the enemy's left near Rossville, four miles down toward the old field of Chickamauga. They carried the Ridge; Mission Ridge seems everywhere; they strewed it summit with dead; they held it. And thus the tips of the Federal army's widespread wings flapped grandly. But it had not swooped; the gray quarry yet perched upon Mission Ridge; the hostile army was terribly battered at both its wings, but there full in our front it grimly waited, biding out its time. If the horns of the crescent could not be doubled crushingly together in a shapeless mass, possibly it might be sundered at its center and tumbled in fragments over the other side of Mission Ridge. Sherman was hammering upon the left; Hooker was holding fast in Chattanooga Valley; the Fourth Corps, that rounded out our center, grew impatient of restraint; the day was waning; but little time remained to complete the commanding General's grand design; his hour had come; his work was full before him.
"And what a work that was, to make a weak man falter and brave man think! One and a half miles to traverse, with narrow fringes of woods, rough valleys, sweeps of open fields, rocky acclivities, to the base of the Ridge, and no foot in all the breadth withdrawn from rebel sight; no foot that could not be played upon by rebel cannon. The base attained, what then? A heavy work, packed with enemy, rimming it like a battlement. That work carried, and what then? A hill struggling up out of the valley four hundred feet, rained on by bullets, swept by shot and shell; another line of works and then, up like a Gothic roof, rough with rocks, a-wreck with fallen trees, four hundred more; another ring of fire and iron, and then the crest, and then the enemy.
"To dream of such a journey would be madness; to devise it a thing incredible; to do it a thing impossible. But Grant was guilty of them all, and was equal to the work. The story of the battle of Mission Ridge is struck with immortality already; let those matchless leaders and armies bear it company.
"That the center yet lies along its silent line is still true; in five minutes it will be the wildest fiction. Let us take that little breath of grace for just one glance at the surroundings, since we shall have neither heart nor eye for it again. Did ever battle have so vast a cloud of witnesses! The hive- shaped hills have swarmed. Clustered like bees, blackening the house- tops, lining the fortifications, over yonder across the theater, In the seats with the Catalines--everywhere, an hundred thousand beholders. Their souls are in their eyes. Not a murmur that you can hear. It is the most solemn congregation that ever stood up in the presence of the God of Battles. I think of Bunker Hill as I stand here; of the thousands who witnessed that immortal struggle, and fancy there is a parallel. I think, too, that the chair of every man of them all will stand vacant against the wall to-morrow--for to-morrow is Thanksgiving--and around the fireside they must give thanks without him, if they can.
"At half past 3, a group of generals stood upon Orchard Knob. The hero of Vicksburg was there, calm, clear, persistent, far-seeing,; Thomas, the sterling and sturdy; and Meigs, Hunter, Granger and Reynolds. Clusters of humbler mortals were there, too, but it was anything but a turbulent crowd; the voices naturally fell into a subdued tone, and even young faces took on the gravity of later years. An order was given, and in an instant the Knob was cleared like a ship's deck for action. At twenty minutes of 4, Granger stood upon the parapet by Bridges' battery; the bugle swung idly at the bugler's side, the warbling fife and grumbling drum unheard; there was to be louder talk--six guns, at intervals of two seconds, the signal advanced. Strong and steady his voice rang out: 'Number one, fire! Number two, fire! Number three, fire!--it seemed to me the tolling of the clock of destiny--and when at 'Number six, fire!' the roar throbbed out with every flash, you should have seen the dead line that had been lying behind the works all day, all night, all day again, come to resurrection in the twinkling of an eye, leap like a blade from its scabbard and sweep with a two mile stroke toward the Ridge. From divisions to brigades, from brigades to regiments, the order ran. A minute, and the skirmishers deploy; a minute, and the musketry is in full play like the crackling whips of a hemlock fire; men go down here and there, before your eyes; the wind lifts the smoke and drifts it away over the top of the Ridge; everything is too distinct; it is fairly palpable; you can touch it with your hand. The divisions of Wood and Sheridan are wading breast-deep in the valley of death.
"There was no reservation in that battle. On moves the skirmish line, like a heavy frown, and after it, at quick time, the splendid columns. At right and left and in front of us the bayonets glitter in the sun. It is of a truth the harvest of death to which they go. And so through the fringe of woods went the line. Now, out into the open ground they burst into the double-quick. Shall I call it a Sabbath day's journey, or a long half-mile? To me, that watched, it seemed endless as eternity, and yet they made it in thirty minutes. The tempest that now broke upon their heads was terrible. The enemy's fire burst out of the rifle pits from base to summit of Mission Ridge; five batteries of Parrotts and Napoleons opened along the crest. Grape and canister and shot and shell sowed the ground with rugged iron and garnished it with the wounded and the dead. But steady and strong our columns moved on.
'By heaven! It was a splendid sight to see, For one who had no friend, no brother there.' but to all loyal hearts, alas! and thank God, those men were friend and brother, both in one.
"And over their heads, as they went, Forts Wood and Negley struck straight out like mighty pugilists right and left, raining their iron blows upon the Ridge from base to crest; Forts Palmer and King took up the quarrel, and Moccasin Point cracked its fiery whips and lashed the surly left till the wolf cowered in its corner with a growl. Bridge's battery, from Orchard Knob below, thrust its ponderous fists in the face of the enemy, and planted blows at will. Our artillery was doing splendid service. It laid its shot and shell wherever it pleased. All along the mountain's side, in the enemy's rifle pits, on the crest, they fairly dotted the Ridge. Granger leaped down, sighted a gun, and in a moment, right in front, a great volume of smoke, like 'the cloud by day,' lifted off the summit from among the batteries, and hung motionless, kindling in the sun. The shot had struck a caisson and that was its dying breath. In five minutes another floated away.
"And all the while our lines were moving on; they burned through the woods and swept over the rough and rolling ground like prairie fire. Never halting, never faltering, they charged up to the first rifle pits with a cheer, forked out the foe with their bayonets, and lay there panting for breath! It was now growing sublime; like the footfall of God on the ledges of cloud. It was rifles and musketry, grape and canister, shell and shrapnel. Mission Ridge was volcanic; a thousand torrents of red poured over its brink and rushed together at its base. And our men were there, halting for breath! And still the sublime diapason rolled on. Echoes that never waked before roared our from height to height, and called from the far ranges of Waldron's Ridge to Lookout. As for Mission Ridge it had jarred to such music before; it was the 'sounding-board' of Chickamauga; it was behind us then; it frowns and flashes in our faces to-day. The old Army of the Cumberland was there; it breasted the storm till the storm was spent, and left the ground it held. The old Army of the Cumberland is here! It shall roll up the Ridge like a surge to its summit, and sweep triumphant down the other side. That memory and hope may have made the heart of many a blue-coat beat like a drum. 'Beat,' did I say? The feverish heart of the battle beats on. Fifty-eight guns a minute, by the watch, is the rate of its terrible throbbing. That hill, if you climb it, will appall you. Furrowed like a summer fallow; bullets as if an oak had shed them; trees clipped and shorn, leaf and limb, as with the knife of some heroic gardener pruning back for richer fruit. How you attain the summit, weary and breathless, I wait to hear; how they went up in the teeth of the storm no man can tell! But our gallant legions are out in the storm; they have carried the works at the base of the Ridge; they have fallen like leaves in winter weather. Blow, dumb bugles! Sound the recall!
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