September 12, 1863. “The whole country was a wilderness of timber…”

From the diary of William H. Records, 72nd Indiana, at Tunnel Hill, Georgia: 

September 12, 1863.

When the morning came instead of engaging the enemy on our front we were ordered to retreat to Ringold. We withdrew under cover of the timber leaving a line of Skirmishers firing at the enemy until we were well away. On arriving at Ringold we drew three days rations in haversacks and after some delay the brigade moved out on the road leading to Lafayette Ga. After proceeding about eight miles the advance encountered the enemies advance on the “Nick-a-Jack Trace.” They – the rebels – retired upon their column and our advance promptly followed, and soon came upon the enemy’s position at

Rock Springs

Where we fought a battle which we gave the name of Rock Spring. The 72nd [Indiana] Regt was about the third regt from the front today. As soon as it was ascertained that the enemy was in force each regt was brought rapidly forward and ‘prepared to fight on foot.’ By the time we were forming artillery was being used but that did not continue very long. When everything settled down to a very ominous silence . . . four companies of the 72nd viz A F D & I was detached from the rest and sent to the left of [the] position occupied by the rest of the brigade.

The whole country was a wilderness of timber scarcely a clearing of any description to be seen  in any direction. For that reason we could see nothing, and it looked very much like going it blind to be preparing for battle in a woods like this. When ready to dismount Capt. W. H. McMurtry directed me to take charge of the horses and gave me some further directions about the men and then run on after the company having sent it on with 1st Lieut. R. A. Vance.

What made me take such notice of the Captains instructions in regard to the horses, etc. was because here forore, he was in the habit of having nobody in command of horse holders and trusted everything to their fidelity. There was little or no firing going on until our battalion of four companies arrived at the position assigned when they encountered the 6th Ga. all ready in line. There was about six hundred rebels concealed in the brush and our force averaged about thirty men to the company, which made only 120 men for us.

The enemies line overlapped ours at both flanks and as soon as the firing began they began closing their wings around ours, and had it not been for our men being armed with the Spencer Rifle – a seven Shooter – there is no doubt but the entire battalion would have been ‘gobbled up.’ But as it was the struggle was a fearful one while it lasted. The enemy was repulsed at a fearful cost to us. Co. I lost her Captain, Wm. H. McMurtry. He called Wm. Harvey as he fell, [but] died before he could tell Harvey what he wanted done.

1st lieut R. Vance then took command of Co. I.

Geo. Brooks, private, of Co. I. killed. Jacob Allen wounded. The entire loss of killed in the four companies was 8, and 8 wounded, which made a total loss of 16 out of 120. Co. D escaped without a scratch.

This affair happened up on a hill to [the] left of Rock Springs as you go towards Lafayette. The dead were all carried down to a house [Dr. Leet’s] on the road near the spring. It was now nearly night and the force we retreated from this morning was now on our back – Wheler’s [really Forrest’s] cavalry.

In our front was Pegram’s brigade of Mounted Infantry, a part of which we had just fought and then in front an to our right lay Clayborne’s [Cheatham’s] division of infantry. We did not stop to burry our dead, but laid them all on a porch of the house and left them. The wounded was taken along in the ambulances, poor fellows. How they must have suffered. One died before we reached camp.

Soon after starting we could see the light of campfires and we thought it must be our infantry, but orders were to keep very quiet. Presently some scouts that were ahead came back and reported that it was rebels camped in line of battle. To our right was a high rail fence. This was taken down very carefully so as not to make any noise for rebel pickets were not 200 yards off. We then took to the fields and woods for it.

Col. Monroe with his regt the 123rd Ill was covering the rear, for Wheeler was pressing hard upon us. Failing to elude him by moving out of the roads and going in the woods, Col Wilder at last resorted to a ‘false camp’ and that had the desired effect. . . .We managed to get to Lee and Gordons Mills that night where we found Crittenden’s Army Corps.

3 Responses to “September 12, 1863. “The whole country was a wilderness of timber…””

  1. Mitchell Werksman Says:

    Morning dave, I was wondering since Wilder’s brigade was 5 regt. With a combined strength of 2,283 men what was there considered strength since they were armed with spencers.

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Wilder operated largely independently, mainly because Rosecrans, Thomas, Wilder, and the men in the brigade felt they were more than a match for any Confederate force twice their size.

  2. Closing In on Chickamauga in the Words of the Soldiers Themselves | Emerging Civil War Says:

    […] armies continued to grope for each other while also protecting themselves. “The whole country was a wilderness of timber…” observed William H. Records, 72nd Indiana. Some Confederates felt that gave them the upper […]

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