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 4 of 5 of Chapter V.
"Take the rifle pits,' was the order, and it is as empty of enemies as the tombs of the prophets. Shall they turn their backs to the blast? Shall they sit down under the eaves that drip iron? Or shall they climb to the cloud of death above them, and pluck out its lightnings as they would straws from a sheaf of wheat? And now the arc of fire on the crest grows fiercer and longer. Fleeces of white smoke dots the Ridge, as battery after battery opens upon our line. I count till that devil's girdle numbers thirteen batteries, and my heart cries out: 'Great God, when shall the end be?'
"At this moment the commanding General's aides are dashing out with an order, to left, right and front: 'Take the Ridge if you can'--and so it went along the line. But the advance had already set forth without it. They were out of the rifle pits and into the tempest and struggling up the steep, before you could get your breath to tell it, all along the line.
"And now you have before you one of the most startling episodes of the war; I cannot render it in words; dictionaries are beggarly things. Bit I may tell you they did not storm that mountain as you would think. They dash out a little way, and then slacken; they creep up, hand over hand, loading and firing, and wavering and halting, from the first line of works towards the second; they burst into a charge with a cheer and go over it. Sheets of flame baptize them; plunging shot tear away comrades on left and right; it is no longer shoulder to shoulder; it is God for us all! Under tree-trunks, among rocks, stumbling over the dead, struggling with the living; facing the steady fire of eight thousand infantry poured down upon their heads from the Ridge. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes go by like a reluctant century. The batteries roll like a drum; between the second and the last line of works is the torrid zone of the battle; the hill rises up like a wall at an angle of forty-five degrees, but our brave mountaineers are clambering steadily on--up--upward still! They would have lifted you, as they lifted me, spurning the dull earth under their feet, and going up to do Homeric battle with the great gods.
"And what do these men follow? All along the Gothic roof of the Ridge a row of inverted V's is slowly moving up almost in line, a mighty lettering on the hill's broad side. At the angles of those V's is something that glitters like a wing. Your heart bounds when you see what it is--the regiment flags--and many of them were borne at Pea Ridge, waved at Shiloh, were glorified at Stone River, and riddled at Chattanooga. Nobler than Caesar's rent mantle are they all! And up those banners move, now fluttering like a wounded bird, now faltering, now sinking out of sight. And you know why. Dead color-sergeants lie just there, but the flags are immortal--thank God--and up they come again, and the V's move on. On the left, on a plateau under the frown of the hill, against a bold point strong with rebel works, three flags are perched and motionless for a long quarter of an hour. Will they linger forever? I look at the sun behind me; it is not more than a hand's breadth from the edge of the mountain; its level rays bridge the valley from Chattanooga to the Ridge with beams of gold; it shines in the hostile faces; it brings out the Federal blue; it illuminates the flags. Oh, for the voice that could bid that sun stand still! I turn to the battle again; those three flags have taken flight. They are upward bound! Though vexed by an enfilading fire, those men steadied into rock and swept the enemy before them with a broom of bayonets. It cost them fifty of the rank and file and two lieutenants, all wounded or dead, and all of Illinois.
"The race of the flags is growing every moment more terrible. One of the inverted V's turning right side up! The men struggling along the converging lines to overtake the flag have distanced it, and there the colors are, sinking down in the center between the rising flanks. The line wavers like a great billow, and up comes the banner again, as if it heaved on a surge's shoulder! The iron sledges beat on. Hearts, loyal and brave, are on the anvil all the way from base to summit of Mission Ridge, but those dreadful hammers never intermit. Swarms of bullets sweep the hill. Things are growing desperate up aloft; the enemy tumble rocks upon the rising line; they light the fuses and roll shells down the steep; they load the guns with handfuls of cartridges in their haste; and as if there were powder in the word, they shout 'Chattanooga!' down upon the mountaineers. But it would not all do. Just as the sun, weary of the scene, was sinking out of sight, with magnificent bursts all along the line, as the crested seas leap up at the breakwater, the advance surged over the crest, and in a minute those flags fluttered along the fringe where fifty guns were kenneled. God bless the Flag!
"What colors were first upon the mountain battlement? I dare not try to say. Bright honor's self might be proud to bear--bear?--nay, proud to follow the hindmost. Foot by foot they had fought up the steep, slippery with much blood; let them go to glory together. A minute, and they were all there, fluttering along the Ridge from left to right. And the routed hordes of the enemy rolled off like the clouds of a worn-out storm. But the scene on that narrow plateau can never be painted. As the blue- coats surged over it edge, cheer on cheer rang like bells through the valley of the Chickamauga. Men flung themselves exhausted upon the ground. They laughed and wept, shook hands and embraced; turned round and did all four over again. It was as wild as a carnival. "But you must not think that was all there was of the scene on the crest, for fight and frolic were strangely mingled. Bayonets glinted and muskets rattled. The artillerists are driven from their batteries at the edge of the sword and point of the bayonet. Granger turns captain of the enemy's guns, and in a moment they are swung around upon their old masters and are growling after the flying foe. I say flying, but that is figurative. The many run like Spanish merinos, but the few fight like lions at bay; they are fairly scorched out of position. But I can render you no idea of the battle caldron that boiled on the plateau. An incident, here and there, I have given you, and you must fill out the picture for yourself. Dead soldiers lay thick around Bragg's headquarters and along the Ridge. Scabbards, broken arms, artillery horses, wrecks of gun carriages, bloody garments, strewed the scene; and, tread lightly, oh, true-hearted, the boys in blue are lying there; no more the sounding charge; no more the brave wild cheer; and never, for them, sweet as the breath of new mown hay in the old home fields, 'The Soldier's Return from the War.' A little waif of a drummer boy, somehow drifted up the mountain in the surge, lies there, his pale face upward, a blue spot in his breast. Muffle his drum for the poor child and his mother.
"With the receding fight and swift pursuit the battle died away, in murmurs, far down the valley of the Chickamauga. The sun, the golden disk of the scales that balance day and night, had hardly gone down when up, beyond Mission Ridge, rose the silver side, for that night it was full moon. The troubled day was done." But that was at the center of the Federal line. That was what one man saw there, and told. How was it on the left, where General Sherman's army was threatening to turn the Confederate right wing, as Hooker had turned the left on Lookout the day before? On Monday, the Army of the Cumberland had swept the enemy out of the Tennessee Valley, and into his stronger defensive lines on Mission Ridge, in front of the Federal center. General Bragg weakened his left through fear that his center would be broken the next day. On Tuesday, the Federal center stood motionless all day, under arms, and ready to assault at any moment, while General Hooker's forces turned the enemy's weakened left and hurled it off Lookout Mountain. On that same day, General Sherman's army gained commanding positions on the enemy's right flank. Early Wednesday morning, the Army of the Tennessee gave General Bragg a continuing promise, for that whole day, that, unless he should most zealously guard against it, the same fate that overtook his left wing on Lookout would be visited on his right at the north end of Mission Ridge. And General Sherman kept that promise good and emphasized it more and more strongly every hour from sunrise until late in the afternoon. Hence, General Bragg weakened his center for the better protection of his right wing, which was all-important to him. And so it was, that the operations of the Army of the Tennessee, which caused General Bragg to weaken his center, enabled the Army of the Cumberland to achieve one of the most brilliant victories in modern warfare. It was no less a victory for the Army of the Ohio, the Army of the Potomac, and the Army of the Tennessee. Each performed its part, and performed it so well that all must "go to glory together."
How was it on the left? What became of the Ninety-Third Illinois? And of the Third brigade? They had been fighting at the crest of the Ridge, north of the tunnel, for two hours, and we left them there, still fighting at half past 3. And there they continued the battle until 4 o'clock. Mark the hour! The signal-guns for the assault on the enemy's center had sounded twenty minutes before, and that assault was then in progress. General Sherman's guns were thundering still, and his troops were still persistently pressing nearer and nearer to the enemy on the north end of the Ridge, and nearer and nearer to the Dalton road. Gen. Morgan L. Smith's division had secured position in the valley between the mountain spur and Mission Ridge, lapped its lines around the north end of the Ridge, and there held fast. That whole slope had turned blue, and there was no room for any gray anywhere in the picture, nor even at the outer edges of it. The batteries on the mountain spur behind protected it. The Ninety-Third Illinois, and all the brigade, were still kneeling and fighting and bleeding at the crest of the Ridge, on its westerly slope. The opposing lines were no more than sixty feet apart, so close together that large stones were hurled from each line at the other, over the crest of the Ridge. Several men were seriously injured by such rocks thrown from the enemy's lines. Six times the colors of the regiment went out of sight. Once, the life of the brave Colonel Putman went out when the flag went down; twice, the spirits of brave sergeants took their flight when the banner fell; and three times, wounded and bleeding heroes relinquished it to other hands. The staff that supported its shining folds was splintered and shivered and shot in twain. The banner itself was riddled and tattered and torn into shreds. Not a twentieth part of it remained upon the broken staff. Carried away by shot and shell, it fragments were scattered on the mountain side among the dead and bleeding heroes who followed it there. God save the mark! how many they were! Twenty killed; eight mortally wounded; nineteen missing who died in prison or were never heard from again; forty-one wounded, not mortally; and eight missing who returned. The total loss was ninety-six. Two hundred and ninety-three went into battle. The loss was thirty-two and seventy-six hundredths percent of the number engaged.
At 4 o'clock, or a few minutes later, the enemy moved a heavy column of troops through the railroad tunnel, an eighth of a mile beyond the right of the brigade. Another force was quickly passed over the Ridge, at the point of the depression just above the tunnel. These two forces, in four lines, charged up the western slope of the Ridge, from the direction of the tunnel, upon the flank and rear of the Federal line next on the right of the brigade. That line was literally doubled up and captured and swept away in less time than it can be told. Instantly following, the full force the enemy's blow fell upon the right of this brigade, well in rear of the line. The words of General Grant: "They will have to go down," were immediately realized. The whole brigade, raked by an enfilading fire, was swept from the crest of the mountain, into the valley below, like chaff before a cyclone. The Federal batteries on the mountain spur could not play upon the enemy until the brigade was a considerable distance down the slope. Then they opened upon them, with terrific effect, and quickly hurled the Confederates back behind the crest of the Ridge. The disaster to this regiment, and the brigade, was nothing more than the correction of the error committed when they went to the crest of the Ridge. The Army of the Tennessee lost no foot of its tenable ground. Nor did the enemy gain the release of a single brigade or regiment, from his right, to aid his weakened center, in the emergency already then upon him there, full three miles away. In less than thirty minutes thereafter his center was broken, and the battle of Mission Ridge, and all of East Tennessee, irretrievably lost to him.
The shattered lines of the Ninety-Third Illinois, and of the brigade, were immediately re-formed, at the edge of the woods, near the position occupied just before the battle. The lurid sun, as seen through battlesmoke, was just sinking in the West. Tall mountains were rapidly casting the mantle of their lengthening shadows over all the valley of the Tennessee; and yonder, up the slope of Mission Ridge, where armed hosts had struggled all the day, those shadows are creeping, creeping, mounting higher and higher, until they fall upon the crest and hide it from view. 'Twas welcome relief from the conflict and scenes of the day. "It is strange that a battle almost always lies between two breaths of sleep; the dreamless slumber into which men fall upon its eve; the calm repose they sink in at its end. Night fairly held its breath above the camps; the wing of silence was over them all. No sigh, no groan, nothing but the sobbing lapse of the Tennessee."
It is to be noted, and not omitted, that that the battlefields of Mission Ridge and Chickamauga were connected, Gen. Gordon Granger's command reached the right of the Union line at an opportune moment, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon; and on the westernmost of a range of hills, that extends westward about a mile from Kelley's house and forms the southern extremity of Mission Ridge, made a most desperate and successful fight against the greatly superior numbers of General Longstreet's forces, and checked, in fact stopped, his movement, which, had it been successful, must have crushed the right of the Union line, and resulted in the destruction of the army of general Thomas, and consequent almost irretrievable disaster to the Union cause. The fight saved McFarland's Gap, near the point where the battle was most furious, which was then the great strategic point of that battlefield, the gateway to Chattanooga Valley. On November 24, 1863, the troops on General Breckenridge's right were beaten and driven from Lookout Mountain, and, on that night, crossed Chattanooga Creek and took position on Mission Ridge, well down toward the south end of it. And on November 25th, 1863, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the command of General Breckenridge was on the extreme south end of Mission Ridge. His left, being refused at McFarland's Gap, occupied the same breastworks that were held by the Union forces, at the same hour of the day, on September 20th, 1863. The two battlefields were thus connected at this point. Here General Granger's command had saved the Union army from overwhelming disaster, at the close of the battle of Chickamauga, a little over two months before. But now, (even while the forces of General Bragg, "as if there were powder and bullets in the word," were shouting "Chickamauga" down from the crest of Mission Ridge upon the hosts of General Granger and Thomas and Sherman, all under General Grant, as they were fighting their way up those apparently impregnable heights, in front of Chattanooga), the division of General Cruft and Osterhaus and Geary, under General Hooker, were driving the forces of General Breckenridge from that same line, at the southern extremity of the Ridge, where General Granger's heroes checked and stopped the rush of General Longstreet's hosts on September 29th, and saved the Union army. The shout of "Chickamauga," neither in front of Chattanooga nor where the two battlefields met, could check the tide of battle, on that November day, that was fast carrying disaster to the Confederate cause. The defeat at Chickamauga was to be, and was, on that day, most gloriously avenged.
It was fitting that the two battlefields should be connected, should meet and become as one; that the yielding heroism of the one should be blended with the brilliant achievements of the other; that the burial places of those heroes who fell at Chickamauga, to save the Union army from irretrievable disaster, should be joined, as in common sepulture, with the graves of those who fell at Mission Ridge, to retrieve and avenge their defeat. In glory they sleep together!
In the eloquent words of Mr. Taylor:
"The battle has been given over and won; the dear flag streams like a meteor from the craggy crown of Lookout Mountain; Mission Ridge has been swept with fire and steel as with a broom; the grim crescent of the enemy, curving away along the range, from the far northeast, south to the base of Lookout, has been crushed like a buzzard's egg; the terrible arc of iron, five miles long, that bent like a quadrant around half of our horizon, is broken and scattered; the key has at last been turned in the Chattanooga lock; the enemy must fly from East Tennessee, like shadows before the morning; Chattanooga, to the Federal army, is no longer the end, but the beginning of things; our eyes may now be lifted and look beyond Chattanooga. Thanks be to God, and the Boys in Blue!
"I sit down utterly unequal to a task in which pride and grief are strangely blended; and yet, in an instant, a half cheer, exultant, triumphant, comes to my lips, and to-night, under this cloudless sky, the way swept clean to Heaven for our boys going there, I turn to the painted emblem that blossomed so strangely on Lookout at break of day, a thousand times more dear for their dear sake who died, and say: Oh, Flag, that loss would make us bankrupt but that thy folds are priceless! The work on the right, left and center cost us full four thousand killed and wounded!
"There was a species of poetic justice in it all that would have made the prince of dramatists content. The ardor of the men had been quenchless; there had been three days of fitful fever, and after it, alas, a multitude slept well. There is a trembling of the lip but a flash of pride in the eye as the soldier tells with how many he went in--how expressive is that 'went in!' Of a truth it was wading in dead waters--with how few he came out. I cannot try to swing the burden clear from the deadweight of fifty-two pieces of captured artillery, ten thousand stand of arms, and heaps of dead enemies, or by driving upon it a herd of seven thousand prisoners. Nothing of all this can lighten that burden a single ounce. But those three days' work brought Tennessee to resurrection; and set the flag, that fairest blossom in all this flowery world, to blooming in its native soil again.
"That splendid march from the Federal line of battle to the crest, was still a grander march toward the end of carnage; a glorious campaign toward the white borders of peace. It made that fleeting November afternoon imperishable. Let the struggle be known as the Battle of Mission Ridge. And now that calmer days have come, men make pilgrimage and women smile again among the mountains of the Cumberland, but they need no guide. Rust may have eaten the guns; the graves of the heroes may have subsided like waves weary of their troubling; the soldier and his leaders may have lain down together; but there, embossed upon the globe, Mission Ridge will stand its fitting monument forever."
THE NEXT DAY.
"I am looking down upon hundreds of the 'boys in blue' that lie side by side on the mountain. Bits of twine bind their willing feet, that shall never again move at 'the double-quick' to the charge. They were among the heroes of Mission Ridge and Lookout Mountain. They were killed yesterday and the day before and Monday. And to-day--let me think-- what is to-day? Away there, at the North, there were song and Sermon; and the old family table, that had been drooping in the corner, spread its wide wings; and the children came flocking home, 'like doves to their windows;' and the threshold made music to their feet--alas, for the hundreds of pairs beside me here!--and the welcome went round the bright hearth. It was Thanksgiving to-day! Let the mothers give thanks, if they can, for the far-away feet that grew beautiful as they hastened to duty and halted in death! Even while the heart of the loyal land was lifted in a psalm for the blessings it had numbered, another was winging its way northward--the tidings of triumph from the mountains of the Cumberland!"
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