Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fessenden Morse: July 31, 1864

Near Atlanta, July 31, 1864.

The evening of the 29th, I went on duty as Field Officer of the day of this brigade. After posting my picket and seeing that all was right, I lay down to take a little sleep.

I must now explain our position. The right of our brigade rests on the Chattanooga Railroad and connects with the left of the Fourteenth Corps; the picket line was about one hundred and fifty yards in advance of the line of works. The rebel rifle pits extended along a crest about two hundred and fifty yards in front of their works, which consist of strong redoubts connected by a heavy line of breastworks ; at a point about in front of the centre of my picket, the ridge rose into a prominent mound. It was swept by the guns of two forts and several batteries, and appeared to be untenable even if taken.

About half-past two A. M., on the 30th, I received an order to advance and take the rifle pits in my front, if possible, and then hold the position. I was told that the pickets on my right and left would advance with me and protect my flanks. My picket consisted of one hundred and sixty-one men and five officers. At a given signal, just at dawn, the whole line rose up and moved out of their little works; for fifty yards not a shot was fired, then the enemy discovered us and opened their fire. I gave the order, “Double-quick,” and in a moment we were upon them; in less than two minutes we had captured seventy-two prisoners, including four captains and three lieutenants. I caught one fellow by the collar as he was making off; he seemed almost frightened to death. Says he, “Don't kill me, — I surrender, I surrender.” I told him that I wouldn't kill him, but he must tell me truly if there was anything between the pits and the works. He said no, but that there were lots of men and guns in the works. On my left, the picket had come up well, refusing its left so as to connect with our old line. On my right, as I soon learned, the Fourteenth Corps picket, seeing that we were being peppered a good deal, thought they would stay where they were, so I had to bend my right away round to cover my flank. The mound was now ours; the question was, could we hold it? The instant that we were fully in possession, I set to work fortifying. The men were in high spirits, knowing that they had done a big thing, and I felt confident that they would fight well. In a very few minutes we had rails piled along our whole front, and bayonets and various other articles were in requisition for entrenching tools.

As soon as the rebels were fully aware of our proximity, and just as it was becoming fairly daylight, they opened on us along our front with musketry and artillery, throwing enough bullets, cannister and shell for a whole corps instead of an insignificant picket detail.

Work, of course, was now suspended. Our greatest annoyance was the fort, which mounted heavy guns, and these were so near that they seemed almost to blaze in our faces and were doing a great deal of damage. I ordered part of the men to fire into the embrasures. In less than five minutes, heavy doors were swung across the openings, and the fort closed up business for the day; the other batteries were out of sight, and kept up their fire. After about an hour of this kind of work, I found that I had lost a good many men, and the others were much exhausted. I sent off an orderly with the report that I must have reinforcements, if I was expected to hold my position. Word came back that I should have more men, and that General Thomas said that the position must be held. Shortly after, three companies reported to me, and about six A. M., the old “Second” came up.

All the men who could be spared from their muskets were kept at work digging, so that every minute we were becoming stronger, and the danger was growing less; still the artillery fire was terrible. At ten o'clock, Colonel Coggswell sent in word that his men could stand it no longer; they had fired over a hundred rounds of cartridges apiece; they were perfectly exhausted and must be relieved. The Thirteenth New Jersey came out and the Second went in; this regiment was under command of a captain, so that it came under my control. At eleven the fire began to decrease, and from then till two P. M., as the rebels found we were to hold on, it continued to subside. A little after two, an officer was sent out to relieve me. My loss was forty-nine killed and wounded, at least half having been hit by solid shot and shell.

I had a whole chapter of wonderful escapes. One shell burst within ten feet of me, throwing me flat by its concussion and covering me with dirt. As I was trying to eat a little breakfast, a rifle bullet struck the board on which was my plate, and sent things flying; but it seemed that my time to be hit had not come.

Our regiment lost three killed and seven wounded. George Thompson was slightly wounded by a piece of shell, nothing serious. The recruits behaved well, without exception.

The best news we have is that General Slocum is coming back to this corps.

SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 182-5

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