In this second volume of General Cox’s personal view of the great American Civil War, we join him as a divisional commander concluding his part in the operations in East Tennessee prior to a change of theatre as the campaign about Atlanta commences. Cox’s close contact with the principal figures of the Union Army, and his in depth knowledge of the opposing soldiers of the Confederate forces, combine with his historian’s ability to relate events in which he was personally involved in a wider historical context to create a unique memoir. So it is that the reader is able to follow the campaigns against Hood at Nashville and the ultimate collapse of the Confederate States, whilst sharing the phenomenon of remedying the filling of one’s boots with water whilst remaining mounted for long periods. For those fascinated by the American Civil War, Cox is a highly companionable narrator throughout his essential memoirs.
“My camp last night,” I said, “was formed of three brigades in two lines across the principal road, another brigade in reserve, and the artillery in the intervals, all in position of battle. A strong line of pickets and skirmishers covered the front and flanks some three hundred yards in advance. In the morning we drew in the flanks of the skirmish line, reducing it to about the length of one brigade across the road, and it was ordered to advance. The men go forward, keeping the line at right angles to the road, stopping for neither creek nor thicket; down ravines, over the hills, the skirmishers trotting from a big tree to a larger stone, taking advantage of everything which will cover them, and keeping the general form of the line and their distance from each other tolerably correct. The main body of the troops file into the road marching four abreast, with a battery near the leading brigade. Presently a shot is heard, off on the right, then two or three more in quick succession, and a bullet or two comes singing over the head of the column. ‘They’ve started the Johnnies,’ say the boys in the ranks, and we move on, the skirmish line still pushing right along. It proves to be only a rebel picket which has fired and run to apprise their comrades that the ‘Yanks’ are coming. Forward a few hundred yards, when, bang, bang, and a rattle of rifles too fast to count. The column is halted, and we ride to the skirmish line to see what is up. A pretty strong body of ‘rebs’ is about some old log houses with a good skirmish line on either side where our men must approach over two or three hundred yards of open fields. A regiment is moved up to the nearest cover on each side of the road, a section of artillery rattles up to the front, the guns are smartly unlimbered and pointed and a couple of shells go screaming into the improvised fort, exploding and scattering logs and shingles right and left. Out run the rebs in confusion, and forward with a rush and a hurrah go our men over the open, getting a volley from the other side. Into the woods they go. The rebs run; two or three are caught, perhaps, as prisoners, two or three of ours are carried to the rear on stretchers, and on we go again for a little way. This is light skirmishing. Sometimes we find extemporized breastworks of rails or fallen trees, requiring more force to dislodge the enemy, and then, finally, we push up to well-constructed lines of defence where we halt for slower and heavier operations.”<br>
The inhabitants within our lines about Atlanta had a hard time of it, in spite of all efforts to mitigate their suffering. Their unwillingness to abandon their homes was very great, and it was very natural, for all they had was there, and to leave it was to be beggared. They sometimes, when within range of the artillery, built bomb-proofs near their houses, and took refuge in them, much as the people of the Western plains seek similar protection from tornadoes. In closing in on the west side of the town, near the head of Utoy Creek, we took in a humble homestead where the family tried to stay, and I find that I preserved, in another of my home letters, a description of the place and their life there.<br>
“Just within my lines” (this was written on August 11th), “and not ten paces from the breastworks, stands a log house owned by an old man named Wilson. A little before the army advanced to its present position, several relatives of his, with their families, came to him from homes regarded as in more imminent danger, and they united their forces to build, or dig, rather, a place of safety. They excavated a sort of cellar just in rear of the house, on the hillside, digging it deep enough to make a room some fifteen feet square by six feet high. This they covered over with a roof of timbers, and over that they piled earth several feet thick, covering the whole with pine boughs, to keep the earth from washing. In this bomb-proof four families are now living, and I never felt more pity than when, day before yesterday, I looked down into the pit, and saw there, in the gloom made visible by a candle burning while it was broad day above, women sitting on the floor of loose boards, resting against each other, haggard and wan, trying to sleep away the days of terror, while innocent-looking children, four or five years old, clustered around the air-hole, looking up with pale faces and great staring eyes as they heard the singing of the bullets that were flying thick above their sheltering place. One of the women had been bed-ridden for several years before she was carried down there. One of the men was a cripple, the others old and grey. The men ventured up and took a little fresh air behind the breast-works; but for the women there is no change unless they come out at night. Still, they cling to home because they have nowhere else to go, and they hope we may soon pass on and leave them in comparative peace again.”