1863: “The Boys Were Lying In Line Of Battle”

Sept. 20th [1863]

Before daylight, the division moved to take position in line of battle. After we had stopped for the night, the field band had been sent to the rear with the horses of the field and staff, and were not back in time, so the Col., etc., had to “foot it.” The Col. left me at the fire to tell the musicians where to bring the horses. Daylight came and a heavy frost was on the ground. I waited until long after sunup, yet the drummers did not come, so I shouldered a long bundle of blankets intended to be put on the horses, and started for the regiment.

I had to pass over the ground where Cleburn had fought the evening before. The dead of both sides were lying thick over the ground. I saw where six Federal soldiers had been killed from behind one small tress, and where eight horses were lying dead, harnessed to a Napoleon gun. Men and horses were lying so thick over the field, one could hardly walk for them. I even saw a large black dog lying mangled by a grape [shot]. In the rear of our brigade, I found our ambulance, and put the blankets in it, then went on to the regiment.

The boys were lying in line of battle, and cracking jokes as usual. Many of them I noticed to be in the finest spirits were in a few minutes afterwards numbered with the slain. All the time the skirmishers about two hundred yards on advance, were very busy. About 10 o’clock A.M. Maj. Wilson rode up to Gen’l Helm, who was sitting against a tree in “rear’ of our regiment talking to Col. C, and gave him the verbal order from Breckinridge to advance in fifteen minutes, and adjust his movements in the brigade on the right. The General got up and mounted his horse, laughing and talking as though he was going on parade. I had intended to go along with the infirmary corps, but as the drummers had not come up with the horses, Col. C. ordered me to go back and see if I could find them. I had not gone far before I came to several of our boys that had been wounded on the skirmish line and as the shells were tearing up the ground about them, which makes a helpless man feel very uncomfortable, I helped put them in an ambulance and sent them to a hospital. I went a little farther, in hopes of finding the drummers, but they were nowhere to be found.

I then started back for the regiment. The rattle of musketry was kept up pretty lively. As I passed along over the field, could see all the little gullies were packed full of straggling soldiers, (but I saw none of our Brigade among them) avoiding the shells. 

When I got to the regiment it was just falling back under a heavy fire, having charged three times unsuccessfully. The regiment was greatly reduced – by half at least. Col. C. had been wounded. Out of our company, my old friend J.H. hand fallen with others and many had been wounded. Gen’l Helm had received a mortal wound and had to be borne to the hospital on a litter. Lt. Col. W., in command of the regiment, had me to ride the general’s horse back to the hospital. Our brigade hospital was more than a mile from the field, across the Chickamauga. The wounded, I found, scattered over a half acre of ground – all out of our brigade too….

Sept. 21st

….The Army of Tennessee, for once had beaten the enemy in an open field fight. Gen’l Bragg rode along the lines, and everywhere was loudly cheered. We tried to get tools to bury our boys, but could not. Late in the evening was sent with orders to the hospital, and remained there all night. After I had left, the brigade started towards Chattanooga. A detail was left to bury the dead.

John S. Jackman, diary excerpts Sept 20-21, 1863 (Confederate)

The Battle of Chickamauga

The Union boys were on the move in the Western Theater after the Tullahoma Campaign; they hoped to push the Confederates out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Union General Rosecrans maneuvered his army accomplishing the objective and forcing Confederate General Bragg into Georgia. However, the Confederates came back, skirmishing on September 18, 1863, and starting the battle the following day near Chickamauga Creek.

The Union line held, despite heavy attacks on the 19th. On the 20th, however, the Confederates were reinforced with General Longstreet’s recently-arrived divisions and smashed through a gap in the Union line. Union General George H. Thomas gained the nickname “Rock of Chickamauga” for his role in holding part of the Union line and allowing the rest of the army to retreat in the night.

The Union Army retreated to Chattanooga and still held that city, but the Confederates had won the battlefield victory.

General Helm

Who’s Who In The Primary Source?

John S. Jackman, the man who penned these diary entries, served in the 9th Kentucky Infantry. He had fought had Shiloh and Stones River. His unit was part of the 1st Kentucky Brigade (The Orphan Brigade), which was comprised of pro-Confederates who had left or fled pro-Union Kentucky and felt “orphaned” without a supporting state.

Brigadier General Ben H. Helm commanded The Orphan Brigade at the Battle of Chickamauga. Brother-in-law by marriage to the Lincolns, he died of his injuries from this battle.

General Breckinridge – the originally commander of the 1st Kentucky Brigade – led a division from D.H. Hill’s command at this battle.

General Patrick Cleburne – a well-known Confederate general in the Western Theater –  had fought bravely at Chickamauga on the 19th.

General Bragg who received cheers from his men was a controversial character, but finally scored a Confederate victory at Chickamauga.

Historical Musings

Jackman doesn’t give us the tactical or strategic pictures of the Battle of Chickamauga. He gives us a glimpse of the battle lines and the casualties of the Kentucky boys. His details about the wounded, the location of the field hospital, and fallen officers provides helpful details for the studying battle aftermath. Additionally, his observations on the mindsets and pre-battle words/actions of the soldiers offer interesting facts on the psychological side of the Civil War.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
This entry was posted in 1863: In Their Words, American Civil War and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 1863: “The Boys Were Lying In Line Of Battle”

  1. Pingback: 1863: “If Your Commanding Officer Orders You” | Gazette665

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