“Well, I hardly know where to begin.”

22nd Michigan monument

22nd Michigan Monument on Horseshoe Ridge

Sergeant Marvin Boget of Company I, the 22nd Michigan Infantry, penned the above opening in a letter to his home town of Novi some few days after the battle of Chickamauga.

Though Sergeant Boget and the rest of his Wolverine comrades had been in service for just over one year, Up until September 1863 the extent of that service was garrison duty at Lexington Kentucky or Nashville Tennessee; interspersed with periodic forays into the countryside to chase Rebel Raiders. The 22nd was well-trained and competently led, but so far, the only deaths in their ranks had come from disease.

That all changed on September 20, 1863. Part of the Union Reserve Corps stationed at Rossville Georgia, on that Sunday afternoon the 22nd was rapidly marched from that location to the relief of other Federals fighting under the direction of Major General George Thomas. They went into action at about 2:00 p.m., Sunday, September 20, 1863.


Let’s let Sergeant Bogart describe the scene:

The battle commenced on Saturday with a skirmish with the johnies and our advanced pickets but nothing serious till Sunday morning about 8 o’clock. While we were camped in the woods a few miles from the rebs, an order came to our general that the enemy was advansing and drove our army back. So the 22nd was hustled into line and started for the front through woods and open fields, and a slashing of timber, that had been cut down to hinder our progress.

Comment: Boget is mistaken here. Many soldiers (of both sides) mistook the large numbers of felled trees they encountered as efforts by other troops to create abatis or defenses, but in fact, most of the slashings they ran into were either the result of civilian timber operations or farmers clearing additional acreage for planting. 

While we were advansing the rebel batterys was throwing shells and solid shot at us but their aim was a little too high and the shot passed over our line and struck the ground somewhere beyond. I don’t know where and didn’t care either as long as they did us no harm. But say Glen, you aught to see how polite we were and how nicely every man bowed his head and ducked every time he heard one of those screaching things coming through the air.

Comment: That aritllery fire was from the guns of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s horse artillery, augmented by part of a battery from D. H. Hill’s Confederate infantry corps. The Confederate cannon were firing from a ridgeline 600 yards east of the LaFayette Road, east of the modern-day Chickamauga Park Visitor’s Center. 

But on we went over fences and logs and through the brush and at a ridge in the woods with bayonets fixed for the charge, for the Johnies were coming up on the opposite side just as fast as we were, shooting and yelling at every jump. But when they met us at the brow of the hill they broke and back they went pell mell through the woods and brush. But not all of them poor fellows, the same as our own boys. Many of them [were] left on t he field dead or wounded.

Comment: Here Boget is describing the initial charge of Brig. Gen. Whitaker’s Brigade, up the northern face of Horseshoe Ridge at and just west of Hill 3. The opposing Confederates belonged to Bushrod Johnson’s Division, mostly Tennesseans, of Cyrus Sugg’s and John Fulton’s brigades. Johnson was poised to outflank the 21st Ohio, defending Hill 3, when Boget and his fellow Reserve Corps Federals reached the scene. 

22nd Michigan close up

A close up of the 22nd’s monument, depicting the fight at the brow of the ridge.

Well we had orders to hold that ridge no matter what the sacrifice, for it was a very important point. And there we held on from about Noon till dark and every time the rebs attempted to advance we would drive them back till just at dusk our ammunition gave out and the Johnies had advanced on our right and left as we could tell by the yelling. Finally they closed in on us with guns pointing us in the face and a command to ‘throw down your guns and lie down on the ground’ and I tell you I wasn’t long in obeying.

Comment: The 22nd Michigan took 455 officers and men into the fight. Over the course of the day’s fighting, they lost 32 killed and 96 wounded. At dusk, General Thomas ordered the Union lines to fall back, but the 22nd, along with the 21st and 89th Ohio, failed to receive that command. As a result, another 261 Wolverines, Boget and his surviving comrades, were taken prisoner – a loss rate of 85%. The 89th Ohio lost 171 captured; the 21st, 131 – for a total of 563 men captured. 

Well that was Sunday Eve and they marched us back a few miles and guarded us there till the next day when we were marched to the station and took the cars for Richmond. They were not palace cars but box cars that they crammed as many in as possible and give us [no] room to lie down on the floor. The cars were so crowded and warm that I rode 5 days and nights on top of the cars before we got to Richmond. The boys would lie with their heads together and feet at out edge of the car and tie their arms to each other so as not to slip off the car as we slept.

Boget would spend the next few months at Belle Isle, in Richmond; then he was transferred to Andersonville. He was freed on April 26, 1865, and discharged at Nashville. In that, he was fortunate; by leaving the army at Nashville he was not sent on farther north via the Sultana. Marvin lived to the ripe old age of 98, passing away in 1938.

After the war Marvin married Sarah Kimmis, a cousin of Henry Ford, and it was said that on his 83rd Birthday, Mr. Ford gave him a new car – which forced him to learn how to drive.

This letter appears to be a combination of contemporary writing and memoir; as the last few paragraphs summarize his time in captivity.


One Response to ““Well, I hardly know where to begin.””

  1. Luke Davis Says:

    Thank you for posting the Boget letter! As a native of Findlay, OH. I have been avidly reading everything I can find on the 21st OVI for many years. Especially those chaotic final moments on Horseshoe Ridge which produced so many conflicting accounts after the war, I have never before heard the details about the prisoners train ride to Richmond contained in this letter. I’m sure as a student of the conflict you can appreciate the thrill one gets when uncovering something new that you’ve never heard before. Fantastic blog, and much appreciated. If you’re ever in Findlay OH. you will find a cannon in the city’s war memorial park with a plaque on the side that simply reads “Chickamauga.” Also at their fine historical museum are many relics from the regiment, including their battle flag and a Colt revolving musket used in the battle. Although engaged heavily at Stones River and elsewhere, accounts of the regiments many annual reunions indicate that the story of their stand at Chickamauga was retold at every gathering, and was considered by them to be the high point of their service.

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