Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
SHERMAN'S ATTACK AT THE TUNNEL.
IT was the eve of the battle of Chattanooga. I had lately returned to the Army of the Tennessee, after a very short furlough, from my home in the West. How well I remember it-ten days of furlough out of four years of war! It was the only time in the whole four years that I slept in a bed. We had helped to capture Vicksburg after a hundred days' siege, and felt entitled to a rest. My regiment, the 5th Iowa, had already marched 2000 miles in two years. But Rosecrans was in straits, Sherman was called for, and we made the forced march of four hundred miles from Memphis to Chattanooga without a murmur.
Our camp was a concealed one in which no fires or lights were permitted-no noises allowed.
In the darkness of the previous night, the command had left bright fires burning in a wood, and had secretly marched to this hidden position. Close beside it, the broad and rapid waters of the Tennessee rolled off into the darkness. On the opposite bank, numbers of rebel pickets kept guard, ignorant of our presence. Behind these pickets were the high hills known as Missionary Ridge, thoroughly intrenched and defended by a large rebel army, just fresh from victory. In a little creek close by lay secreted 116 pontoons. What were they there for ? The silence, the secrecy, the mystery of the scene, convinced us that there was work ahead- and that we had to do it.
Before sundown two great soldiers had quietly been inspecting the little camp and the banks of the river. They were Grant and Sherman. Other officers, strangers to us, had come and looked at the pontoons in the creek, and a great wagon-load of boat-oars had been quietly placed beside them. We were at supper when the order came to row over the river and assault at midnight. I laid down my knife and fork, and stopped eating. A strange sensation came o ver me. Certainly I had been in dangerous places before. The regiment had a record for gallantry. The names of five battles were already inscribed upon its banners. Within two years from enlistment, half the men in the regiment had been killed, wounded, or disabled. We already had our third colonel.
Numerous of our line officers had been promoted to higher posts. My own red sash had been given me under the guns of Vicksburg. Yes, we had seen fighting, but I had always been. a believer in presentiments, and, somehow, something told me that I was doomed-that some calamity was in store for me.
The critical situation and the vast consequences dependent on success or failure were known to us all as we lay in the shadows that evening, waiting the order to move over the dark river and assault the heights of Missionary Ridge.
Midnight came-but we still lay quiet ; 2 o'clock, and we heard some gentle splashing in the water near us, and the noise of muffled oars, Every man seized his rifle. " Quiet, boys-fall in quietly," said the captains. Spades were handed to many of us-we did not ask what for, we knew too well.
Quietly the pontoon-boats had been slipped out of the little creek to our left, and into the river, and quietly we stepped down the bank, two by two, into the rude craft. ½ Be prompt as you can, boys, there's room for thirty in a boat," said a tall man who stood on the bank near us, in the darkness.
Few of us had ever before heard the voice of our beloved commander. Sherman's kind words, his personal presence, his attention to every detail of the dangerous adventure, waked confidence in every one. He was with us, and sharing the danger.
In a quarter of an hour a thousand of us were out in the middle of the river, afloat in the darkness. Would they fire on us from the opposite shore ? -was our constant thought. Those were strange feelings, we soldiers had; out in the middle of the river that night. We were not aware that a boat-load of our comrades in blue had crossed farther up the stream, just at midnight, and had captured the rebel pickets on the bank without firing a shot. We met a boat in the water, full of men - the captured pickets being rowed over to our side of the river. It was a fine ruse that had been played on them. The boys, crossing above, had got in behind them, and then, calling out the "relief," deceived and captured all but one.
In half an hour we were up the opposite bank and creeping along through the thickets - a spade in one hand and a rifle in the other. What might happen any moment, we knew not. Where was the picket that had escaped ? Why was not the whole rebel camp alarmed and upon us ? Daylight came; but it found us two thousand strong, intrenched with rifle-pits a mile in length. What a sight for Bragg ! Hand about, we worked and digged like beavers. An old Quaker came down to expostulate with us for ruining his farm by such digging. The scene was ludicrous, and the boys gave a derisive little cheer for " Broad-brim." The noise drew upon us the shells from a hidden battery, and cost us two wounded men. It very nearly cost our friend his life, as an exploding shell left a hole within a yard of him, twice as broad as his big hat.
Still we dug on at our rifle-pits. Other regiments were ferried across. By noon the pontoon-bridge was down behind us, and soon the whole army corps was over.
All the afternoon w e manoeuvred and fought for position, chasing the enemy off one high hill- spur only to find him better intrenched behind another. These were the outlying hills between Missionary Ridge proper and the banks of the river.
The real position was across fields and hollows, and farther up on the mountain. Sullenly and slowly the enemy gave way, preparing in his high position for the battle of the morrow.
That night my regiment stood picket in the wood at the front. All night long we could hear the rebel field-batteries taking position on Missionary Ridge. For a hundred hours we had scarcely slept.