Archive for December, 2017

“At the crisis I fell” – James E. Love, 8th Kansas

December 8, 2017

Col. Hans Heg’s Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland is one of the more interesting units to fight at Chickamauga: containing as it did the only Kansas unit (the 8th) in the Army of the Cumberland and the only all-Scandanavian regiment (the 15th Wisconsin) in the Union army. It also has the dubious distinction of being among the hardest-hit of all the brigades  engaged in that battle, suffering nearly 65% casualties.

Irish-born, Love emigrated to America, and then spent time in Australia – where he prospered. When he returned to the states, he brought with him $6,000 in gold; he was a man of considerable means, settling in St. Louis.

When war came he did not gravitate towards one of the many Irish regiments recruiting across the nation. Instead, he apparently had an abolitionist bent, and began recruiting men for what was intended to be a brigade commanded by Kansas Jayhawker Jim Lane. Eventually, Love’s contingent was organized as part of the 8th Kansas.

Originally a member of Company K, James was promoted to Regimental Adjutant on November 17, 1862. The 8th Kansas Regiment saw split service  – half of it serving in the Trans-Mississippi and half in Tennessee – until February 1863, when the whole command was united at Nashville. From there it served in the Army of the Cumberland, 20th Corps.

Fortunately for history, James was a man in love, as well – because he recorded his wartime experiences in a series of very detailed letters to his fiance, Eliza Wilson – “Molly.”

The 8th Kansas went into action at Chickamauga between 1 and 2 p.m., September 19. Heg’s brigade, formed on the right of Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s division, entered the woods just north of Viniard Field, looking to find and turn the flank of Confederate troops engaged farther north, around Brock Field. Instead they ran smack into Bushrod Johnson’s Confederate division, deployed in that same timber about 600 yards east of the LaFayette Road.

Charge of the 15th Wisconsin at Chickamauga: the mortal wounding of Col. Heg

That fight surged back and  forth through the afternoon, with Heg’s men being driven back to the road. Here is how Love described that action in a postwar recollection:

At 8 o’clock . . . we marched 8 miles to the Widow Glens house, Genl. Rosencran’s Head Quarters, washed our feet and filled our canteens at Crawfish Springs, and then were rushed into the woods and into the battle under a terrible roar of musketry and artillery. We got on the double quick two miles from Widow Glens, our men falling, when line after line of Longstreets Corps [Johnson’s division, though not from Virginia, was part of Hood’s (Longstreet’s) Corps at Chickamauga] charged us, but we drove them for some time. they advanc[ed] again and again in Superior numbers, found several gaps in the line of the army, and flanking us we had to fall back after losing 5 Captains 3 Lieutenants and 150 men killed and wounded – I fell on the extreme front.

Love, badly wounded, remained on the field. He fell into Confederate hands. On September 23rd, he described the action in a letter to Mollie:

Mollie Dear,

I am laying out in a cotton field & doing well. I am at present within Bragg’s lines but hope to be exchanged at once as thousands of others are today and yesterday. We have just got some rations sent by Rosecrans, the first since the fight. When I closed this note [He means a letter written on the morning of the 19th] we started and marched rapidly 8 miles or more, and all at once got into a most terrific fight. I was under fire several hours, and rallied the men of my company and of other several times. I brought the flag back more than once when we were driven – but it was of no avail. The enemy overpowered us and drove us back.

At the Crisis I fell headlong among them, shot through the thigh in two places, and my clothes riddled besides. I am doing well, and I am I assure you in good spirits and suffered no pain – neither when wounded or since – I am weak as it bled freely – and the sinews are cut and the bone jarred very much – I expect to forward this from Chattanooga. I will write whenever I can; believe me I will suffer less from pain then you will from pity.

Love’s letter made it home, but he did not. Instead of being exchanged in the field hospital, Love was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond once he was able to travel; He spent the rest of the war in Rebel hands, until in March, 1865 he saw his moment to escape. He and several fellow officers slipped away from their guards in North Carolina, and after several weeks winding their way through the mountains of North Carolina, reached Knoxville. From there things went smootly – he was soon back in St. Louis, where he married Mollie on May 2, 1865.

All of Love’s letters to Mollie are online at the Missouri Historical Society, and have also been published in book form.

In March 2018, the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Study Group will explore Heg’s attack.