August 29, 1863, Part II, “we are having some exciting times here now.”

August 29, 2015

Union artillery continued to shell Chattanooga and other points along the south bank on a regular basis, doing considerable damage. Quartermaster Sergeant Ed N. Brown of the 45th Alabama (S.A.M. Wood’s Brigade, Cleburne’s Division, Breckinridge’s Corps) recorded one such incident: 

Camp at Blue Spring, August 29th, 1863,

My darling Fannie,

We are having some exciting times here now. The Yankees are shelling some point in hearing every day. They came to our post on Thursday evening about 2 o’clock opened on us with a battery from a hill on the opposite side of the river. The first shot took us entirely by surprise. It hit a little to the right of the camp and exploded about forty yards in rear of my tent. I ran into the wagon yard and began to call “turn out the mules, turn out the mules,” & a second shot came whizzing right over my head & exploded [with]in a few steps of the Col’s ten; by this time we had turned loose the stock & they were running round perfectly frantic. The third shot struck in the wagon yard & exploded & tore off the right leg of one man & shattered the leg of another man so that it had to be amputated near the hip.

It also wounded two other men slightly, killed one horse instantly & tore three mules so that they are ruined. This shell exploded [with]in twenty steps of me & I thought I was about gone but fortune favored me & I did not get a scratch. The place got to hot for me about this time & I sought shelter behind a neighboring hill. They kept shelling us for some hour but did no other damage.

We had a battery here but our guns did not return a shot. It seems to be the policy not to shoot at them unless they attempt to cross. Bragg may want them to cross that we may fight them on this side of the river.

On September 1st, Brown would certify to the death of one mule by this shelling, and the permanent injury of another; the paperwork preserved as part of his army service record file. 

August 29th, Part I: “There was a sure thing nobody could run.”

August 29, 2015

On Saturday, August 29, 1863, Colonel Hans Heg’s brigade of the 1st Division, 20th Corps, led the crossing of the Tennessee River at Caperton’s Ferry, near Stevenson Alabama. Private Benson Bobrick of the 25th Illinois Infantry was among the first to cross, describing the experience in a letter to his mother two days later: 

Dear Mother,

“Early Saturday morning we were divided into companies of 25 each & loaded into the pontoons with 100 rounds & our guns loaded, & at the command of the general all the boats pulled for the south shore of the Tennessee where we expected a battle[;] for the rebs were in sight & a few shots were fired. It looked like risky business going out into the river in those boats facing the enemy. There was a sure thing nobody could run. The river is 800 yards wide. It was a beautiful sight to see the boats in line of battle nearly a mile long pulling together regularly. It looked too many for the few rebels on the south shore for they took at once for the bushes. We all landed together. Gen. McCook went over with us making his promise good that he would give us the advance and go with us. . . .McCook complimented us highly for our efficiency in throwing across the pontoon bridge.

Book update:

August 27, 2015

The Chickamauga Campaign cover low res

Great news!

Here is the cover of Volume II

I am happy to announce that The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. II: Glory or the Grave is now one step closer to being a real thing.

Savas-Beatie tells me that they expect delivery from the printer on September 14.

I will be signing books at Chickamauga on September 18 and 19, 2015, and have been assured that books will be available at the park bookstore for that event. Thus, that will be the book’s debut, as well as the 152nd anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga.

I hope to see you all there.

If not, titles will soon be available in all your regular retail outlets,

other events:

I will be speaking at the Louisville Civil War Round Table on Friday, September 11th,

I will be doing an event at the Abraham Lincoln bookstore on Thursday, October 1st.

I will be talking about the Army of the Cumberland at the Kenosha Civil War Museum on Saturday, November 14th.

August 26 & 27th, 1863: The General, Major and myself ‘adjourned’ and took a drink…’

August 26, 2015

From the diary of Lieutenant Robert B. Davidson, Company B, 35th Ohio Infantry, Van Derveer’s Brigade, John Brannan’s 3rd Division, 14th Army Corps, Near Bridgeport Alabama. 

August 26th 1863

Weather cool.  There has been a cool breeze all day. After breakfast this morning, Foster Webb and myself started out in the country foraging on a mule and I had a horse.  After going about five or six miles we got some potatoes and then started for camp, on the way back we got some very nice apples.  In the afternoon about 4 o’clock Alonzo Fisk, (first sergeant of our company) and myself started for the top of the hill on which we were encamped.  After a very tiresome trip up a very steep and rough hill, we were refreshed by a drink of water from a small spring which we found in a little hollow on the top of the hill.   From that spot on the hill we had a splendid view of the Tennessee River and its valley for a long distance, both up and down the river.  Looking down the valley we could see the fortifications of Bridge Port and the piers of the bridge at that place.  From there we could follow the railroad with our eyes up the south bank of the river toward Chattanooga .  Looking to the south we could see a range of very high hills in Alabama over the tops of the low range close to the river bank. On our road down the hill we amused ourselves by rolling large stones down the side of the mountain.   The air this evening is very chilly.

In addition to his daily narration of events, Lieutenant Davidson recorded his impressions of some other officers in the regiment. Here are two of the most pertinent: 

Description of the officers regiment.

Col Van Derveer – Hight about 5 feet 11 in Black hair.  Dark complexion.  Steady habits, quick tempered.  A little stoopid.  Was a lawyer.

H.V.N. Boynton, Major, Promoted to Let Col July 1863.  About 5ft 7in high Dark Hair.  Dark complexion.  Steady moral habits Pleasant agreeable disposition.  Very polite.  Was a professor in a military academy.

While Lieutenant Davidson waited on the north bank of the Tennessee River for operations to commence, Confederate General Braxton Bragg was being reinforced. 

From the diary of Captain E. John Ellis, 16th Louisiana Infantry, Daniel Adams’s Brigade, Breckinridge’s division, en route to Chattanooga:

“On the 27th of August we took the cars for Meridian.Thence we went to Mobile, thence to Montgomery, and then to West Point [Ga.] We were crowded at the latter place to such an extent that Col. Gober left a detachment of 100 men and two car loads of baggage under my charge with orders to follow the command as soon as I could procure the necessary transportation. The post commandant of West Point, a Major in rank, [but] a General in feeling, would only consent to give me three cars. Fortunately for me, Brig. Gen. Adams arrived at Midnight and on explaining my situation, he told me to take all the cars necessary for transportation of my men and baggage. I chose five box cars. The Major expostulated, the General swore at him, the Major subsided, and the General, Major and myself “adjourned” and took a drink.



August 24, 1863: “Deserters from the enemy are numerous.”

August 24, 2015

While the Union deception plan unfolded, General Rosecrans massed the bulk of his force along the Tennessee River between Stevenson, Alabama and Jasper, Tennessee; readying for the moment when the Army of the Cumberland would begin its offensive in earnest. Among those waiting at Bridgeport, Alabama was 19 year old Charlie Stiles, drummer for company A, the 36th Illinois Infantry, in Sheridan’s Division of the 20th Corps. Rumors were constantly in the air, many of them concerning the enemies’ will to fight, and each story of a Rebel defection was pounced upon. 

August 24 – Bridgeport.

Everything is quiet here at present. Gen. Rosey was down from Stevenson Yesterday. The main body of the rebels left here several days ago. There has been a flag of truce running between the lines for 2 days and nights. There was firing of large and small arms up the river, also a bright light as of a bridge burning. It begins to be sickly here.

Deserters from the enemy are numerous. An orderly sergeant on picket deserted with his Co. of 50 men and delivered himself and Co. to us at Stevenson. We had a little artillery practice today by way of amusement, but did not accomplish anything.

August 21 and 22, 1863. “Our uncivil salutation”

August 22, 2015

From the journal of William O. Crouse, Capt. Eli Lilly’s 18th Indiana Battery, Wilder’s Brigade, writing the day after his battery’s arrival opposite Chattanooga:

August 22nd

[From Poe’s Tavern] the brigade separated, 4 guns with mountain howitzers marching south towards Chattanooga and 2 guns with 98th Ills to Harrison’s Landing. . . . The main body, marching down the valley seventeen miles to Chattanooga, took possession of the heights north of town and began shelling the city. It was a day of fasting for the citizens, and having no intelligence of our coming, were no doubt surprised by our uncivil salutation.

Surprised they were. Lilly’s shells caught Chattanoogans – soldiers and civilians alike – completely off-guard. President Davis had declared August 22nd to be a day of fasting and prayer across the Confederacy, a spiritual scourging to make up for the loss of Vicksburg and the depressing news out of Pennsylvania that summer. 

 Colonel Newton Davis of the 24th Alabama, Manigault’s Brigade, Hindman’s Division; reported that same scene in a letter home: 

Camp on Lookout Creek, August 22nd, 1863,

Dear Bettie,

Yesterday the little city of Chattanooga was in a state of excitement all day. The Yanks made their appearance very suddenly on the opposite side of the River and commenced shelling the town. The streets are always crowded with soldiers & citizens, men, women & children. You never saw such skidadling in all your life. Shopkeepers, peach & apple vendors, and speculators of all descriptions, both Jews and Gentiles, commenced running in every direction. The shelling was kept up nearly all day. I understand that four persons were killed and some seven or eight wounded, mostly citizens. One lady was killed and a little girl had her thigh broken. . . . All the floating population . . . are leaving on the trains as fast as they can get off.

August 16th, 1863, the calm before the storm…

August 16, 2015

Over the next few weeks as we once again commemorate the anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga, I will be posting more frequently, sharing some of the soldiers’ accounts I and others have gathered over the years. This is the first of these posts. 

In August, 1863, Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee defended Chattanooga, braced for the next Union advance. Unsure of where the Federals might approach, Bragg’s infantry was spread out along the south bank of the Tennessee River for several miles, both upstream and down, alert for signs of a Federal incursion. For much of that month, the Mississippians of J. Patton Anderson’s Brigade, Hindman’s Division, picketed the downstream portion of the river, between Battle Creek and Bridgeport. It was not a relaxing time for Anderson’s men.

From the diary of John Roberts, C Company, 7th Mississippi: 

Aug 16.

All quite [quiet] this morning. No yankees in site of mi post yet. We see fine times heare only we don’t half to a nuf to eate. We started out with too days ratchens but on bread all molded and out mete all sowerd. . . .I heare a good meney of our men is deserten and going home. Some 60 diserted and left for home. Thir was a squad of calvery sent after them to fetch them back but when they over taken them and they had a fite, [the] diserters whipt the calvery and went on. I heare too [2] diserted from our regt last nite and went over to the yanks. Now this will never do. I am a fraid we are gone up.I heare Miss[issippi] is a going back in the union and if she dos I am a going home Shore.

Desertions would continue to plague the Mississippians. In a letter from this same time period, George Lea of the 7th noted that: 

Our troops are doing very bad deserting every night almost. There has been as many as fifteen left in the last week. T[wo] from our regt. . . . I say let them go for such men are not of any benefit to us at all. If we had them back and did not kill them we would have them to watch. Let them go but if you catch them, shoot.

On August 21st, Anderson’s brigade was withdrawn from Bridgeport and marched back to Chattanooga.

The day book for Company F of the 7th Mississippi: 

August 22nd [Recording the previous day’s activity]

Left and marched all night and came to Wauhatchie, distance 20 miles. Bivouacked there.

Bragg would come to regret withdrawing his infantry from their more distant picket posts. 


It’s Alive!

August 15, 2015

OK. Though you might not know it based on the activity here, it has been a busy couple of months for me.

First, the best news of all. At the end of July we finished the editing process for The Chickamauga Campaign, Vol. II: Glory or the Grave, and sent it off to the printer.

I have once again emerged, blinking, into the light of day.

Here is the info sheet:


Books should be available by mid-September.

In travel news, I will be speaking to the Louisville Civil War Round Table on Friday, September 11th. The topic will be Braxton Bragg’s difficult relationship with the Army of Tennessee’s generals.

On Friday and Saturday, September 18th and 19th, I will be at the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park Bookstore, signing new copies of “Glory or the Grave.” I will also, of course, be roaming the battlefield, playing fly on the wall to the various park staff as they lead battle walks, and generally enjoying myself. Come out to visit if you get the chance.

In other news I just finished up a road trip out east, where I spent some time at various research libraries, including the Indiana Historical Society, the Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle PA, and the National Civil War Musuem in Harrisburg. At that last, I obtained a copy of an outstanding set of diaries from Lt. Robert B. Davidson of the 35th Ohio, which had a little bit of a part to play at Chickamauga. I have cross-posted more about that trip here

Since it is August, and we are once again moving into the annual Chickamauga Campaign commemoration cycle, I also thought I would post a few things from the material I have amassed, including fascinating Davidson’s diary. Look for some of those posts in the next few days.


Saving Reed’s Bridge and Brown’s Ferry

June 23, 2015

I have been busy of late, sort of overwhelmed by various things, including the finishing details of volume II of The Chickamauga Campaign, and working on some other writing projects I have due. Vol. II should be at the printers soon, very soon. I will let folks know when it happens.

I wanted to post here, however, about a new appeal from the Civil War Trust, for a chance to save 42 acres in the Chickamauga-Chattanooga area. The trust is working to save another 30 acres at Reed’s Bridge, and a 12 acre parcel at Brown’s Ferry, site of the Federal crossing on the night of October 27, 1863.

Here is the link to the CWT’s appeal:

they need approximately $120,000, and it is nearly a 6 to 1 match.

I am happy to report that for those of you who attended the Chickamauga Study Group Seminar last March, we raised enough money to donate $900.00, which I sent off today.

Take a bow, all of you who contributed.

Colonel Arthur C. Ducat: one of the men behind the man

April 19, 2015

By virtue of their position, generals garner the fame – or the infamy.

Staffs, not so much.

Arthur C. Ducat

But no general succeeds without a solid staff behind him. For most of military history, staff officers were chosen by their commanders, often with few qualifications. In the Napoleonic and Freidrichian eras, staffs were often populated by nepotism and cronyism, often to the detriment of performance. The Civil War was no exception to this rule. Stonewall Jackson famously selected men of the cloth, perfering devotion to martial experience. Ulyssses S. Grant favored men from his old home town of Galena. John A. Rawlins proved a solid choice, but Clark B. Legow? Perhaps less so.

In fact, every shrewd general keeps a weather eye out for intelligent, promising officers who cross his path. William Starke Rosecrans was no exception. In the fall of 1862, One such path-crosser was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur C. Ducat of the 12th Illinios. Ducat’s energy, intelligence, bravery and military knowledge all made a  favorable impression on Rosecrans.

Ducat was born in 1830, in Dublin Ireland, to parents of Scots descent. His family was well-off, at least until his father died unexpectedly in 1842. Thereafter the family fortunes declined. At aged 15, Ducat was apprenticed to a mercantile firm in Dublin. He did not take to being a merchant. He returned to school for two years, studying civil engineering. His next career choice, however, was unusual: he enlisted in the Duke of Cambridge’s own Regiment of Lancers (the 17th.) Health reasons invalided him out of the British cavalry within a year, however. This was probably a lucky stroke for Ducat, for the 17th would later earn fame as one of the regiments in the light brigade at Balaclava.

In 1850 Ducat journeyed to New York. He had little money, but his timing was good. The great American railroad boom was beginning, and his civil engineering skills could be put to profitable use. Railroad business took him to Chicago. He worked in Illinois and Wisconsin for the next few years, building the Fox River Valley Road and the Chicago and Northwestern line. In 1856, however, he changed careers again, going to work for an insurance agent, Mr. Julius White.

Here his organizing talents came into play. Ducat became very interesting in organizing and improving Chicago’s volunteer fire companies. In fact, Ducat went much further, urging the city to form professional fire companies and acquiring the newest steam fire engines; all to the dismay of the volunteers. For a time, it was said, Ducat was the most unpopular man in Chicago. Then the first Great Chicago Fire (yes, there was more than one) came in 1857, and did so much damage to the business district that it convinced Chicago to adopt Ducat’s ideas. Ducat would become the first captain of the Chicago Fire Brigade, and in many ways can be regarded as one of the CFD’s founders.

Most of the various volunteer companies and the fire brigade took their organizational qeues from the militia, and so adopted a semi-military aspect. Ducat, not content to stop there, however, also joined the Highland Guard, a ceremonial militia and drill company of Scotsmen, based in Chicago. Never willing to be a mere dilettante, Ducat was soon voraciously reading military tomes of all kinds.

With the outbreak of war, Ducat strained to put those hard-won skills to good use. The Highland Guards offered their services to the state, but Ducat, impatient, decided to raise an independent force of pioneers, engineers and mechanics. He recruited 300 men, but neither the state of Illinois nor the Federal government saw a need for this sort of specialized force at the time, and refused the offer. Interestingly enough, most of Ducat’s defacto battalion instead enlisted as Company G, the 19th Illinois Infantry, later to become Bridges’s Battery of Illinois Artillery. They got around.

In the meantime, Ducat turned back to the Highland Guard, following his old militia commander John McArthur into the 12th Illinois Infantry, a.k.a. the “First Scotch” regiment. Ducat was named regimental adjutant. By the time the 12th was engaged at Donelson, Ducat was a major, and just before Shiloh he was elevated to Lieutenant Colonel.

After the capture of Corinth, Ducat garnered the attention of Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord, and served under that officer at Iuka. A month later, he was on Rosecrans’s staff at Corinth. He would remain a staff officer for the rest of the war. He would later express some disappointment over this change, since staff positions meant greatly reduced chances at promotion and higher command.

Ducat 2

He excelled as Rosecrans’s Inspector-General. When Rosecrans replaced Don Carlos Buell in command of the Army of the Ohio, Ducat went with. Rosecrans descended on Buell’s old command like a whirlwind. The Army of the Ohio was in ragged shape, having completed the fall campaign in Kentucky and returned to Tennessee. The men needed just about everything. Rosecrans took note of it all, and immediately began improving the state of the command. Ducat proved invaluable in this labor.

Ducat initially served as Rosecrans’s cheif of staff, at least until the arrival of Colonel Juluis Garesche. After that, Ducat returned to his duties as IG. He did everything from engineering work to helping re-organize the army. It was Ducat, for example, who created the Army of the Cumberland’s (renamed after Stones River) new system of corps, divisional and brigade flags, the better for identification in battle. He served with distinction on the field at Stones River, proving he still had the chops of a combat soldier as well as a staff officer.

At Chickamauga, Ducat served with distinction. He was present at headquarters when the breakthrough occurred, but like most of the staff, became separated from Rosecrans at the critical moment and so did not accompany the General back to Chattanooga. Ducat helped rally stragglers on the Dry Valley Road, eventually falling in with Sheridan’s men and accompanied them to Rossville.

After Chickamauga, Ducat stayed with the army, serving on George Thomas’s Staff when that officer replaced Rosecrans at the head of the Army of the Cumberland. Health reasons, however, forced Ducat to resign in February, 1864. He returned to Chicago to recuperate.

Ducat was a shrewd observer with a keen military mind. Based on his surviving writings, his insights into the inner workings of the Army of the Cumberland would likely have been a great boon to historians. Ironically for a man who spent so much of his life in the fire-fighting and insurance business, most of his military papers were destroyed in the better-known Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Not everything, however. Ducat retained a lifelong loyalty to Rosecrans, and, according to his memorialist, retained “strong opinions” on the question of Rosecrans’s relief by Grant. Unfortunately (as recorded in that same memorial) “among General Ducat’s [surviving] papers were found some copies of Chickamauga’s field dispatches which have a personal as well as military interest, but as they deal with questions that might revive old controversies it has been deemed wiser to supress them.” To date, I have not discovered whether or not “supress” meant that they were destroyed or merely kept private. If the former, then the history of the battle of Chickamauga is just a little bit more incomplete because of it.

After the war, Ducat returned to insurance, and continued to play a role in the world of fire-fighting. He kept his hand in on military affairs, being instrumental in the formation of the Illinois National Guard, which he later commanded as a major general. He also played a role in veterans affairs, joining MOLLUS, the Society of the Army of the Cumberland, and the GAR. He gave speeches and eulogies.

One fascinating tidbit of his life – for me, anyway –  was that he was the organizer and first captain of the Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) yacht club. Lake Geneva, about 80 miles from Chicago, has long been a resort community for Chicagoans, wealthy and otherwise, even Al Capone had property in Lake Geneva. I have visited Lake Geneva often, though admittedly, never been to the yacht club.

Ducat died of pneumonia and heart failure at his estate in Downers Grove Illinois on January 29, 1896.



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