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My Days and Nights on the Battlefield

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My Days and Nights on the Battlefield
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Author(s): Charles Carleton Coffin
Date Published: 2009/12
Page Count: 180
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-865-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-866-7

A famous American writer’s view of the Civil War

Charles Carleton Coffin is now recognised as one the important journalists, authors and polititicians of the American nation. At the time of the Civil War he was working for the Boston Journal and was already an experienced correspondent. Writing under the pen-name of 'Carleton' he witnessed virtually every campaign from the Battle of the Wilderness to the fall of Richmond. Prior to his journalistic career he worked as a civil engineer and regularly assisted the Federal military in the field in that capacity. In this book the reader benefits from a view of the Civil War as seen by an expert observer and translated into words by an accomplished wordsmith. This is a perfect book for those who enjoy journalism and Civil War history. Coffin takes the reader to the battle of Bull Run, action at Forts Henry and Donelson, Pittsburg Landing, operations at New Madrid and Island Number Ten culminating in the fighting around Memphis. A worthwhile addition to every library of the American Civil War.

But while this is going on, the Rebel cavalry have moved round to the rear of McArthur. They dash down a ravine, through the bushes, over the fallen trees, and charge up the hill upon the Ninth and Eighteenth regiments of McArthur’s brigade. They are sent back in confusion, but the onset has been so fierce and the charge so far in the rear, that McArthur is compelled to fall back and form a new line. The Rebels have begun to open the door which General Grant had closed against them. The brigades in front of Oglesby are pouring murderous volleys upon the Eighth and Twenty-ninth. The falling back of McArthur to meet the attack on his rear has enabled the enemy to come up behind these regiments, and they are also compelled to fall back. <br>
The Rebels in front are elated. They move nearer, working their way along a ravine, sheltered by a ridge of land. They load their muskets, rush up to the crest of the hill, deliver their fire, and step back to reload; but as often as they appear, McAllister and Dresser and Taylor give them grape and canister.
The Eleventh and Twentieth Illinois, on the right of Wallace’s brigade, join in the conflict, supporting the brave Logan. Colonel Wallace swings the Forty-eighth, Forty-fifth, and half of the Forty-ninth round towards Pillow’s brigades, leaving the other half of the Forty-ninth and the Seventeenth to hold the line towards the Fort Henry road. If you study the diagram carefully, you will see that this manoeuvre was a change of front. At the beginning the line of battle faced northeast, but now it faces south.<br>
There is a ridge between Wallace’s brigade and the Rebels. As often as the Rebels advance to the ridge, Taylor and McAllister with the infantry drive them back. It is an obstinate and bloody contest. The snow becomes crimson. There are pools of clotted blood where the brave men lie down upon the ground. There are bayonet-charges, fierce hand-to-hand contests. The Rebels rush upon McAllister’s guns, but are turned back. The lines surge to and fro like the waves of the sea. The dying and the dead are trampled beneath the feet of the contending hosts.<br>
Wallace hears a sharp fire in his rear. The Rebels have pushed out once more towards the west and are coming in again upon the right flank of the new battle line. McClernand sees that he is contending against overwhelming numbers, and he sends a messenger in haste to General Lewis Wallace, who sends Cruft’s brigade to his assistance. The brigade goes down the road upon the run. The soldiers shout and hurrah. They pass in rear of Taylor’s battery, and push on to the right to help Oglesby and McArthur.<br>
The Rebels have driven those brigades. The men are hastening to the rear with doleful stories. Some of them rush through Cruft’s brigade. Cruft meets the advancing Rebels face to face. The din of battle has lulled for a moment, but now it rolls again louder than before. The Rebels dash on, but it is like the dashing of the waves against a rock. Cruft’s men are unmoved, though the Rebels advance till they are within twenty feet of the line. There are deafening volleys. The smoke from the opposing lines becomes a single cloud. The Rebels are held in check on the right by their firmness and endurance.
But just at this moment General Buckner’s brigades come out of their entrenchments. They pass in front of their rifle-pits at the base of the hill, and march rapidly down to the Dover road. Colonel Wallace sees them. In a few minutes they will pour their volleys into the backs of his men. You remember that the Seventeenth and part of the Forty-ninth Illinois regiments were left standing near the road. You hear from their muskets now. They stand their ground and meet the onset manfully. Two guns of Taylor’s battery, which have been thundering towards the south, wheel round to the northeast and sweep the Rebels with grape and canister.<br>
Three fourths of the Rebel army is pressing upon McClernand’s one division. His troops are disappearing. Hundreds are killed and wounded. Men who carry the wounded to rear do not return. The Rebels see their advantage, and charge upon Schwartz’s and McAllister’s batteries, but are repulsed. Reinforced by new regiments, they rush on again. They shoot the gunners and the horses and seize the cannon. The struggle is fierce, but unequal. Oglesby’s men are overpowered, the line gives way. The Rebels push on with a yell, and seize several of Schwartz’s and McAllister’s guns. The gunners fight determinedly for a moment, but they are few against many, and are shot or taken prisoners. A Mississippi regiment attempts to capture Taylor’s guns, but he sweeps it back with grape and canister.<br>
Up to this moment Wallace has not yielded an inch. Two of Oglesby’s regiments next to his brigade still hold their ground, but all who stood beyond are in full retreat. The Rebels have picked off a score of brave officers in Oglesby’s command,—Colonels Logan, Lawler, and Ransom are wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel White of the Thirty-first, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith of the Forty-eighth, Lieutenant-Colonel Irvin of the Twentieth, and Major Post of the Eighth are killed. The men of Oglesby’s brigade, although they have lost so many of their leaders, are not panic-stricken. They are overpowered for the moment. Some of the regiments are out of ammunition. They know that reinforcements are at hand, and they fall back in order.
To understand Wallace’s position at this stage of the battle, imagine that you stand with your face towards the south fighting a powerful antagonist, that a second equally powerful is coming up on your right hand, and that a third is giving heavy blows upon your left shoulder, almost in your back. Pillow, with one half of his brigades, is in front, Johnson, with the other half of Pillow’s command, is coming up on the right, and Buckner, with all of his brigades, is moving down upon the left.<br>
Wallace sees that he must retreat. The Eleventh and Thirty-first—Ransom’s and Logan’s regiments—are still fighting on Wallace’s right. There is great slaughter in their ranks, but they do not flee. They change front and march a few rods to the rear, come into line and fire a volley at the advancing Rebels. Forest’s cavalry dashes upon them and cuts off a few prisoners, but the line is only bruised, not broken. Thus loading and firing, contesting all the ground, the troops descend the hill, cross the clear running brook, and march up the hill upon the other side.
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