September 19, 1863. “Center Shot.”

You may have seen this picture before, as it has been posted elsewhere from time to time. The full story behind it is remarkable.
Jacob Miller

This striking image is of Union Private Jacob Miller, Company K, 9th Indiana Infantry. Miller went into action with the rest of his regiment about 1:00 p.m., in Brock Field. the 9th belonged to Hazen’s Brigade, of Palmer’s Division, the 21st Corps; they fought men from two brigades of Tennesseans from Frank Cheatham’s division, Polk’s Corps. Miller’s account departs from my previous practice in this series, in that his story is a post-war reminiscence, not something written closer to the event. However, his story is so striking – alarming, upsetting, and inspiring – that I feel it belongs here. I have excerpted some material. 

The History of My Wound, by Jacob Miller.

While on the firing line hear the Brock Cabin at the battle of Chickamauga, while lying down to take aim at an enemy, some Johnny Reble got careless with his old musket and accidentally or otherwise pulled the trigger while the muzzle was pointed my way. I stopped the full charge of lead, consisting of one round ball and three buckshot, between the eyes, passing to the left under the frontal bone crushing my left eye out of the cavity well. I thought I was done for.

My Captain told me . . . that when I was hit I lay on my face a short time before I got to my feet with the blood streaming from the wound. The captain asked me if someone should take me to the rear [but] I said no.

Thus I started back carrying my gun. Of course I did not realize anything for some time after that. [Here Miller must have fallen or lain down.] At last I became conscious and raised up in a sitting position. Then I began to feel for my wound. I found my left eye out of its place and tryed to place it back but I had to move the crushed bone back as near together as I could first. Then I got the eye in its proper place. I then bandaged the eye as best I could with my bandana. I could hear the firing not far away, some of the bullets even striking hear where i was sitting.

When I got to my feet to find out where I was, I could see no one. I did not know which way to go or what to do, so I poured some water out of my canteen on the bandage. Then I sat down against a tree with the idea that someone would come past me and would know how to act or what to do.

[Here Miller recounts meeting a wounded Confederate, giving him water, and having him point out the direction of the Union rear.]

Then I got my gun and hastened in the direction he pointed out through the thick woods that came to a point where the firing was off to the side. I advanced cautiously and had not gone far when I heard a noise behind me, which proved to be some of the enemy coming up to form the line. Just at that point I heard the command given to halt and lie down. I was making myself as scarce as possible but it was slow work as my good eye was getting almost closed.

I was picking my way the best I could among the trees and underbrush to get back from the fierce conflict, trying to find a road. After struggling for a while I came out on a byroad, wending among the trees. I was very glad as my head was swollen so badly that my good eye was at times closed with the blood running into it and clotting there. As I had but little water in my canteen, I had to use it to wet my parched lips and throat.

While I went along the road I heard a horse coming toward me and when I was close enough for me to see who the rider was, I discovered it to be my first captain, [now] Major William P. LaSelle. He halted as I called his name and saluted, and [he] asked who I was. I replied that I was Miller number three of Co. K. He ordered me to drop my gun and everything but my canteen and grub sack and get on his horse. He said he would take me to the field hospital. I obeyed his order, all but letting him take me back. I urged him to hasten to the regiment but not to go in the direction from which I had come, as there were some of the enemy there, and none of our troops. He rode away from me and I learned later that he went straight into the Johnnys and was captured.

[Miller apparently did not let the major take him to the rear, for he goes on to recount more struggles on his own, an encounter with some men of the 4th Michigan cavalry, collapsing in pain and exhaustion, before being retrieved by two stretcher bearers, who finally carried him to the divisional hospital. There, however, he received grim news.]

When it came my turn I was examined by the surgeons. They discovered that the wound was mortal and that I would die soon, and that it was foolish to do anything with it. But they bandaged it with wet bandages and I was laid in a tent. . . .At last I became unconscious. That was a mercy to me after what I had passed through. . . . Next morning I came out of my swoon, or whatever you might call it. I wet the bandage and had a good draught. I found the swelling had diminished in my eye and that I could see a little. After a time a surgeon and a scribe came into the tent and when they got to me, the doctor was surprised to see that I was still alive.

[This was September 20th, and the hospitals were being evacuated, except for those men too badly wounded to be moved. The Confederates were approaching, and the men left behind would soon all be prisoners. Miller determined otherwise.]

After he had gone from the tent I went to the spring, filled my canteen, wet my head and washed as much of the blood off my face as I could, because I had made up my mind that I would not be taken a prisoner as long as I had strength to make a step toward Chattanooga. I would rather die trying to get there than to be captured.

     MIller managed to make his way back to Chattanooga, partly walking, and then riding in an ambulance, by Monday September 21. There his wound was re-dressed. Over the next week, Miller journeyed to Bridgeport, where he was placed on a train. At Nashville he was finally bathed, his would cleaned, and dressed again. His next stop was Louisville, and then the large Union hospital complex at New Albany Indiana, just across the Ohio River – into “God’s country,” as Miller told it. 

Miller recovered sufficiently to move from patient to semi-invalid hospital attendant. In the Spring of 1864, he was in Madison Indiana, working in wards numbers 3 and 6. He secured a 30 day furlough in June, and went home to Logansport. He still carried the musket balls in his forehead. 

I went to Dr. J. M. Fitch’s office, to [see] his partner, A. C. A. Colman. I told him what the doctors in the different hospitals had said about an operation on my wound. I told them if they would do the operation I would risk the dying part of it. They put me in a barber’s chair and probed for the lead, found it, and got hold of it with forsips. They pulled it to where it had gone in but the frontal bone had knit to the skull bone where I had placed it, so the ball was bigger than the hole, thus it could not come out.

Miller was discharged in August of 1864, with his comrades in the 9th, at the expiration of their enlistment. He returned home, but would suffer the effects of his wound the rest of his life. 

Seventeen years after I was wounded I was washing the pus off my face one morning when something hard dropped into the pan. When I took it out I found it to be a buckshot. Thirty-one years after being wounded two more buckshot fell into the pan while I was washing, so you can see how I have been handicapped. The wound is open and pus discharges continually, so much so that I cannot go into any society for fear of offending anyone. I do not belong to any society except the Methodist Church and the G.A.R. My left eye is blind, my hearing is bad and infirmities of old age are creeping on my. I was eighty-two years old on the fourteenth of August, 1920.

I have no kick coming against any one for my condition. If it was possible for me to meet the deluded enemy that shot me I should congratulate him on being a center shot, for that gives me the name of “Center Shot.” I am proud of my wound and of my service, and am glad that I was a small link in that great chain of soldiary that brought back Old Glory without a single star missing.

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3 Responses to “September 19, 1863. “Center Shot.””

  1. Mitchell Werksman Says:

    Yes, I have seen the picture before but the story is new.what an amazing tale.god bless him that he lived so long.

  2. Christopher Coleman Says:

    I had previously come across the story of Jacob Miller in an old newspaper account with a sketch drawing, which I used in my forthcoming book on Ambrose Bierce and the 9th Indiana. Regrettably I had not seen either his photo or your article on him at that time. Quite unusual and interesting. It is my belief that Lt. Bierce later used Miller’s bizarre experience as the basis for a later short piece called “A Cold Night.”

  3. Wyatt Budge Says:

    I gotta bookmark this internet site it seems extremely helpful invaluable.

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