The Curious Case of Sergeant Kane

First Sergeant John Milton Kane of Company A, 101st Indiana wrote little about his time in the war. Or at least little that has survived. He did leave us a detailed account of the battle of Chickamauga, however, in the form of an annotated and expanded set of diary entries for September 18-24, 1863. His account includes details not found elsewhere, including some disparaging remarks about both the Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment with which he was then serving.

Note that I don’t simply say “the 101st Indiana” in that last sentence. Why? Because his remarks and the details he provides suggest that he was actually with the 75th Indiana during the fight.

Briefly, on September 19th both the 75th and 101st Indiana Regiments were part of Colonel Edward King’s 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 14th Corps. The divisional commander was Joseph Reynolds, and at about noon the brigade was stationed in Brotherton field, acting as a reserve. At about 2 pm the 101st Indiana, along with the 105th Ohio and 68th Indiana, were moved south along the Lafayette Road in an effort to outflank the Rebels then engaging Palmer’s Division of the 21st Corps in the woods due east of Brotherton Field. Along the way, King’s three regiments had to move around two brigades of Horatio Van Cleve’s 3rd Division, 21st Corps, who were doing the same thing – entering the woods to the east.

The 101st Indiana, along with the bulk of King’s brigade and Van Cleve’s troops, became involved in a prolonged contest in those woods, was eventually outflanked by more Rebels coming up from the south, routed and driven back all the way across Dyer Field (at least 1000 yards to the west) by the end of the day.

In the meantime, the 75th Indiana remained in reserve, only to be committed to the fight at about 3:00 p.m. They also went into the woods to the east, but several hundred yards north of the 101st, separated by the 8 regiments of Van Cleve’s line. Unlike the 101st, the 75th fought largely alone, with no direct support on either flank. They were eventually driven back into and through the north end of Brotherton Field by Bate’s Confederate Brigade, to end up at Poe Field. The two regiments moved and fought completely isolated from each other, separated by anywhere from a minimum of 600 yards to more like a mile. They finally reunited that night, near Poe Field.

Kane’s account describes the 75th’s experience, not the 101st’s – at least most of the time. Therein lies the problem. You see, Kane not only mentions a number of officers that clearly belong to the 75th, but he also levels harsh criticism against both the 75th’s Colonel, Milton S. Robinson, and the Lt. Colonel, William O’Brien. He accuses them both of hiding behind a haystack during the fight, and says that O’Brien left the field early on the 20th with a “very minor wound.” In essence, he’s called them cowards. Peter Cozzens picks up on this in This Terrible Sound (p. 248.)

Kane also says that for part of the battle, the regiment was commanded by Captain Steele. On the face of it, there’s no reason to disbelieve Kane. But he wasn’t in the 75th, he was in the 101st, clearly shown by the post-war rosters published by the State of Indiana. Nor is there any Kane in the 75th, John or otherwise. So why is the First Sergeant of Company A, 101st Indiana, fighting with the 75th Indiana?

It gets worse. At one point, Kane describes the actions of Cushing’s Battery H, 4th US Artillery down in Brotherton Field. The 75th was never really in a spot to observe Cushing’s gunners. Did Kane suddenly switch to join his actual unit? There are two captain Steele’s as well: Captain Samuel Steele commands company A of the 75th Indiana, while Captain – now Major – George Steele is in the 101st Indiana.

Nor is there any corroborating evidence of bad behavior on the part of Robinson or O’Brien. There are several other men in the 75th whose letters or diaries have survived. None of them mention problems with their commanders. The regimental history speaks highly of both officers. While regimental histories are often quick to hide unflattering material, they do so usually by not speaking about the guilty parties as little as possible. They don’t praise them. Nor do officers so accused tend to remain in command after such an incident. Robinson commands the regiment at Missionary Ridge, and though he resigns in March, 1863, he commands up to that time. O’Brien leads the 75th after Robinson’s departure, serving all through the Atlanta Campaign and until the regiment is mustered out in 1865. This is not how officers who fail to measure up in combat get treated. The only – sort of – corroboration comes from General John M. Palmer. After the war Palmer related a story that had him refuting a rumor of Robinson’s cowardice that surfaced as part of a political campaign against Robinson in 1872. (again, See Cozzens, p. 249)

So I am suspicious of Kane’s account, vivid as it is. It gives us a good story, at the expense of Robinson and O’Brien, but there are just too many inconsistencies. I’m curious enough to check the files of both regiments at the Indiana Adjutant General’s office, the next time I go, and I think I might request Sergeant Kane’s pension file, to see if there is anything helpful there, as well. But I don’t intend to present Kane’s accusations as anything more than hearsay until I can resolve some of my doubts.


11 Responses to “The Curious Case of Sergeant Kane”

  1. Don Monroe Says:

    The regimental history is the last place to track the facts relative to internal disagreements or controversial issures. The places to go are:

    * Letters and orders regarding all the officers within a regiment, including and especially endorsements on up the chain of command.
    * Regimental muster rolls.
    * In the case of Indiana regiments, Governor Morton Telegraphs, especially if the Governor is referenced in any of the above items.
    * Newspaper items from any of the counties or towns that the men mustered in from.

    Please see 81st Indiana. It entails a lot of work, but it is worth it if you want to get closer to the facts of the situation.


  2. James F. Epperson Says:

    Sounds perhaps like we have a western Augustus Buell 😉

  3. Dave Powell Says:


    I’m quite familiar with the 81st Indiana, thanks.


    I am not sure I’m ready to go that far. But it is really odd. I want to go through the Indiana AG records for both regiments and see what I can uncover.

    It would be easier if Kane’s account were clearly some old vet’s tale. The National Tribune, after about 1902 or so, really starts to get some wierd accounts in it, as vets incorporate all the stuff they heard, half-remembered, or dimly recalled into anecdotes they sent in for publication. Kane’s account is clearly post-war, but seems to be a post-war “clean copy” of a diary at the time. It’s enhanced with some notes, but is clearly pretty contemporary to the fight.

    Of course, I am going off a copy printed in the East Tennessee Historical Society Magazine. I don’t know where the original is, probably still in the hads of the editor.

    Oh well, a researcher’s work is never done.

  4. Dave Navarre Says:

    Could it have been from the summer of 1872, written to be used to generate that rumor about cowardice? It sounds like an awful lot of work for such a purpose, but….

    • Dave Powell Says:


      That’s a possibility, though I think a remote one. There is little other stuff in the account that suggests a lot of post-war knowledge. In fact, I don’t even know where the original is; the account I’m working from (as did Cozzens) is one published in the East Tennessee Historical Society Publications Magazine in the 1970s.

  5. Casino Says:

    I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make reader to read the while thing to the end.

  6. Dan Burkee Says:

    Thanks for providing this account of the 75th Indiana in Chickamauga. I’m curious where you found Kane’s diaries, or if you have a copy or transcript.

    My great-great-grandfather was Pvt. Henry Cline, Company I, 75th Indiana. He fought and was wounded in the battle of Chickamauga, and I have the letters he wrote to his wife, Lovina, while in service.

    I’m researching the battle accounts of the 75th, intending to put together a narrative of Henry’s experience, trying to be as accurate as possible to his perspective.

    Henrry made no reference to Chickamauga in his letter, nor to being wounded. I found out about his wound through a newspaper article written in 1963 to commemorate the centennial of the battle. Later, I tracked down and received a copy of Henry’s disability pension application. He described receiving a flesh wound, walking off the battlefield, sitting down in a creek and removing the ball with his pocketknife. He said it was not a debilitating wound; his disability was severe varicose veins, caused by long forced marches.

    I appreciate whatever help you can provide.


    Dan Burkee

    • Dave Powell Says:


      the Kane Diary can be found here:

      Suppinger, Joseph E. Ed. “From Chickamauga To Chattanooga, The Battlefield Account Of Sergeant John M. Kane” East Tennessee Historical Society Publications No 45, 1973. (101st Indiana Infantry)

      It should be relatively easy to obtain through ILL.


      • Dan Burkee Says:

        Thank you – I have requested it.

        In case you are interested, I can provide a transcript of the Henry Cline letters — if you have an email address I can send it to.

        Best regards,

        Dan Burkee

  7. Chris Evans Says:

    I haven’t read it yet but is any help on this question of the 75th Indiana at Chickamauga?


    • Dave Powell Says:

      Chris, Not really. While Miller’s journal is excellent, and well worth reading, he does not mention Kane. Dave Powell

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