Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Reminiscences of the Civil War, William and Adelia Lyon

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Nov. 3, 1864.—To give you an idea of the way business runs with me, I will give you my experiences after tea Sunday evening. I sat down in my room thinking that everything was quiet and promising myself a comfortable night’s sleep, when a messenger galloped up with a dispatch saying that the rebels had opened with a battery on our troops at Whitesburg, which you know is in my command. I immediately went down to post headquarters, sent couriers to Whitesburg with orders, and was making other dispositions to prevent the enemy from crossing the Tennessee river there, when a man rushed into the office pale and almost breathless, announcing that the rebels were near the city on the New Market road in heavy force, and that they were burning every combustible thing as they advanced. Looking in that direction, sure enough the flames of several burning buildings corroborated the story.

I immediately strengthened my picket lines and sent out scouts to ascertain what was there, gave directions for the disposition of public property, assigned their positions to what few troops I had, went to the fort and made the necessary arrangements there, and returned to headquarters to await further developments.

In due time the scouts returned with the information that the force was only a raiding party of guerillas and citizens, who had burned some houses occupied by colored people connected with the contraband camp here—and the excitement was over. But all of this took from one until two o’clock in the morning. In the meantime I received information that two gunboats had arrived at Whitesburg, so I went to bed feeling easy. There were no further demonstrations there.

The next evening (Monday) I felt sure that all was quiet; when just as I was leaving the office to go to bed, a dispatch from the commanding officer at Larkinsville came, saying that he was attacked. It turned out to be nothing serious, but to find out that, and to make preparations to meet it should it prove serious, took half the night.

Tuesday night we were moving some troops and had to wait for trains, so the Adjutant remained up all night and I got a good, undisturbed night’s rest. Last night for the first time since the rebel army approached us we both slept all night. Yet, for all this, I keep perfectly well. How long our quiet will last I can not even guess. Hood moved down the river from Decatur, but I have no idea where he is. We have had reports that he crossed the Tennessee river to the north side of Florence, but these reports are not reliable.

Large numbers of troops have gone forward to Decatur and Athens within the last three days, and I feel quite confident that the tide of war has rolled by us once more without striking us. The General has given me more troops here on the river and on the railroad, and I am feeling quite stout. The non-veterans will leave in about a week for Nashville to be mustered out.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Oct. 27, 1864.—Hood’s army passed us within fifteen miles of Whitesburg, and yesterday they attacked Decatur. They fought all the afternoon, and our troops drove them off. I have no particulars, although I get dispatches from there every hour. We heard the artillery plainly here. There are 150 of the 13th there, commanded by Captain Blake. I think our losses are light, as our forces had fortifications to shelter them. I do not think they are fighting much today. The probability is that the rebel army has moved down the river on the south side towards Tuscumbia.

We just got information from a scout that our army is in hot pursuit and can not be far behind. It was said to have been at Gadsden on the Coosa river last Monday night. I have a number of first-class scouts and spies that I have kept at work on the other side of the river, mostly tracking Hood’s movements. I think I have furnished General Thomas with the earliest and most authentic information he has had of the operations of the rebel army for the past week.

General Granger was here when the attack commenced at Decatur, but left for that place immediately.[1] He has drawn away nearly all the force from here to Decatur and Whitesburg. All of these operations keep me up nights and make me lots of work. Adjutant Scott is invaluable to me in this crowd of business, and I have another good Adjutant at post headquarters, so you see I have good help.

I have had no apprehension of an immediate attack here, yet I am very thankful that you are snug in Racine instead of being here. Hood has to be settled before we shall have much quiet.


[1] They thought Hood’s army was moving on the south side of the river, ten or fifteen miles away, and I had some splendid scouts there. After the head of his column had passed south of Huntsville and kept on west, we expected that they would try to cross the river at Whitesburg; but one night at midnight a courier came in with the word that the head of the army had passed the Whiteburg road and was poined toward Decatur, less than a day’s march from where they were. I got the artillery on the cars and had everything ready, because I knew that General Granger would be attacked. I called in all the pickets that I could spare, leaving the necessary pickets around Huntsvllle, but having the rest ready to march. After dinner General Granger came into headquarters and said, “Colonel, I can not find out anything and I have come up here to find what is going on.” I said, “General, you will find out before night what is going on. Hood is advancing on Decatur and will get there before night.” He said, “I do not believe it,” but as we sat there talking we heard the distant boom of artillery and the General pricked up his ears and said, “What is that?” I said, “It is Hood at Decatur.” He said, “It is impossible!” but he realized what it meant. I told him everything was ready and could be started right away and asked him if he wanted me to go with them. By the time he got to the depot everything was ready, and he got to Decatur in an hour. They drove Hood off and he went on down the river, destroying a pontoon bridge. —W.P.L

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Huntsville Landing, Ala., Sunday, Oct. 23, 1864.— I go on a tour of inspection up the railroad tomorrow and expect to be gone two days. Lieut.-Colonel Horner, 18th Michigan Provost Marshal here, will command in my absence. We expect some more troops here soon, and if we remain here I shall probably retain my railroad defense command and move headquarters to Larkinsville. That arrangement will suit me very well. I hope matters will settle down before a great while so that I can form some idea where I shall be the coming winter.

Lieutenant Bowerman’s resignation has been accepted and I hear that he has gone home. A new order from the War Department holds in the service all those officers who had a veteran furlough with their regiments. It affects several of our officers who were intending to leave.

Fifty or sixty recruits came to the regiment the other day, and we sent up to find a clerk amongst them. They sent us one, and it was George Larson. I was taken completely by surprise.

Colonel Chapman has gone to Nashville to see about mustering out the non-veterans. The health of the regiment is improving.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 19, 1864.—I took command of this post on Monday morning and I do not have any more leisure. I write this while I am waiting for dinner. Hood has, or has had, a large force up towards Chattanooga. We hear that he is backing out, but know nothing about it. There are plenty of troops up that way to take care of him. We know nothing of Forrest’s movements since he crossed the river. I do not think he will try another raid till we get the railroad which he destroyed repaired. If he comes here we usually have troops enough to make a pretty good fight.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 16, 1864.—Everything is mixed and in confusion with us. The reason is that the rebels are making desperate efforts to break up our communications, and troops are being constantly moved to threatened points. Today I am sending off parts of two cavalry regiments in my command to Nashville to be mounted. Colonel Johnson, the commander of this post, goes with them; and tomorrow morning, in addition to my other duties, I assume command of the post. This will give me about all the work that I can do, but I hope that it will not last long.

General Granger came up from Decatur and called on us last night. He is very salubrious. His family are here and are quite popular. General Granger’s treatment of the regiment and of myself is very kind and considerate, as much so as I could ask and more so than I could expect.

The campaign now opening will be fought out between Louisville and Atlanta, and we are as much exposed as any other part of the line north of the Tennessee river, or more so. The tide of battle as it surges from point to point along the line may strike us any time, and it is hardly possible that we should escape it entirely, and I do not know that I care to escape it.

I am weighed down with care and responsibility, and that responsibility is terrific, for it has to do with human life. Then I am torn away and kept year after year from home and family, and they seem dearer to me every day; and further, I lead a life of constant peril and uncertainty. All these things, added to the fact that the best years of my life are passing away and we are getting poorer every year financially, do sometimes press on my feelings pretty snug. When I last wrote I was not very well. I am better now, but everybody else is sick. I have a fine command; my reputation as an officer and gentleman is first-rate, and my military standing, position and character are all I could desire.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala., Thurs., Oct. 13, 1864.—I went to Stevenson and back on Monday on an inspecting tour. The regiment is still very sickly.

Things are very unsettled here, and we are liable to be struck by heavy forces of the rebels almost any day.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 9, 1864.—All is quiet now, Forrest having recrossed the river without being much damaged. There will be a large force kept in this district, no doubt, which will lead to changes, and it is hard to guess how it will affect us. We may remain right where we are, we may be sent back to the river, and we may go to Atlanta. One is just about as likely as the other. We shall know soon.

I have found one of my horses—the best one—in a contraband camp two miles from town. As father used to say, ‘Give a man luck, and a little wit will do.’

Most of the officers who are entitled to a discharge will take one when the original term of service of the 13th expires. The officers who went home with the regiment last winter are not held by reason of having done so, the War Department having overruled General Thomas in that respect. If the Major goes out, Captain Kummel will be Lieut.-Colonel. We shall not be entitled to a Major, the regiment being below the minimum (806 enlisted men). In that case, Fish may stay as Captain of Company C. If not, Bardwell will be Captain, and I think that Moulton will be a Lieutenant.

I go up the road tomorrow on an inspecting tour as far as Stevenson. I take a special train and expect to be gone two days. Officers and men of the 13th nearly all sick, but I hope the cool weather will straighten them up.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala,, Thurs., Oct. 6, 1864.—We have had lively times, but everything has settled down now into the quiet of utter stagnation, and last night I was allowed to sleep all night without interruption. The night before, just at bedtime, I received information that there were a thousand rebels nine miles from Larkinsville. So I had to put out in the rain and send out reinforcements and telegraph orders, and it was nearly midnight before I got to bed. It turned out to be a small guerilla party. The last we heard of Forrest, he was in the vicinity of Columbia. There are so many troops in this vicinity that we had no fear of his coming this way again.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 4, 1864.—I am well but completely tired out. The raid seems to have passed us. We find that we were menaced by 4,000 men with artillery, and when they came they no doubt intended to attack, but gave it up. So we have lost another fight.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 2, 1864.—I keep on writing to you, although I do not suppose that one of my letters has reached Nashville for over a week. Of course, I receive none from you. The railroad over which our mails pass is not used, and the other road is used exclusively to transport troops.

When Forrest left the railroad, near Pulaski, he went east towards the Nashville & Chattanooga R. R., but, as far as I can learn, has not injured it. On Thursday I sent a scouting party nearly to Fayetteville, 28 miles north of this place, who learned that his army passed through there the night before, going east. The next day I sent another scout in a northeast direction and about 12 miles out. They ran into a large force of the enemy and had a little fight. On their return General Granger, who in the meantime had arrived here from Decatur, sent out another scout on the same road, and soon after we heard them skirmishing some two miles out of town. This was just at night. The scout came in and reported 150 rebels there. They lost one man, killed. We made every preparation for defense. In the evening a flag of truce came in with a communication from the rebel General Buford, saying that he commanded the advance of Forrest’s army, and demanding a surrender of the town, fort, troops, etc., at this post. The substance of General Granger’s answer was, ‘Go to h—l.’

Some further correspondence occurred during the night, the dispatches purporting to be signed by Forrest himself. He offered to let the citizens have two hours after daylight to get out of the town. We allowed all to leave who chose to go, and most of them went. There was a terrible panic amongst them. They are nearly all rebels, and General Granger, Colonel Johnson and myself had all told them repeatedly that if we were attacked we would play smash with their old town. It was interesting to see them, on foot, on horses and mules and in all sorts of vehicles, run from their doomed town, as they supposed. They went in all directions, but mainly to the mountains near by.

Well, about eight o’clock on Saturday morning several parties of the enemy appeared in sight and moved up to within one or two miles of the town. Whenever we could get a fair view of them we let the shells fly at them. They kept pretty well under the cover of the woods, and after an hour or so, there being no apparent increase of their force, we sent out scouts, who at noon reported that the enemy had left and were moving west, saying that they could take Huntsville, but that it would cost them more men than they could afford to lose. So the citizens returned and everything quieted down again. I was up all Friday night, and stayed at the fort last night, but slept most of the time. Tonight I am at headquarters and hope to have a good, quiet, ten-hours’ sleep.

The 13th had its usual luck, or would have had it had there been a fight. About twenty minutes before we learned that the rebels were in our neighborhood, General Granger started all of them who were here, some 200, on the cars toward Stevenson to remove the wreck of a train that was fired into and ran off the track at Bellfonte the same morning. So they would not have been here at all, except Company E, which we brought up from Whitesburg during Friday night. The regiment returned last evening and this afternoon was sent to its old stations on the railroad.

Last evening several thousand troops arrived here to reinforce us. They are commanded by General Morgan, with whom I formed a very pleasant acquaintance at Stevenson a year ago. This force went down towards Decatur this evening on a reconnoisance. While it is in our vicinity we are in no danger of attack.

We have no knowledge of the size of the force that made this demonstration on us. General Granger thinks it was Forrest’s whole force. I do not. I think it was large enough, however, to satisfy them that it could take Huntsville. I was much relieved to have the General here to take the responsibility of the command. I was also much relieved to know that you were in Wisconsin, safe and snug.

Jerry packed up my traps and carried them to the fort, and then took a musket and went into a colored company we have here and was ready to fight. The officers and men of the 13th are nearly all sick. I have reported the regiment as unfit for field duty, and mean that it shall lie still for a few weeks to recuperate.

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