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

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“During the battle, our regiment changed position three times, facing east, west and south.”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

July 25, 2013

Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills, (8th Illinois Infantry)

July 25, 1864.

We moved up to the rear of the corps on the 21, and had just got comfortably fixed for the night when orders came that we should report back to the brigade on the front line. Just as we started a heavy rain set in, and continued while we marched one and one-half miles to the left, where we stacked arms in rear of a line of work occupied by the 6th Iowa. The Rebel line lay in plain sight, just across an open field, and the bullets made us keep pretty close.

At sunset we were ordered to extend, or rather build a line of works to hold our regiment, between the 6th Iowa and 40th Illinois. We had fairly commenced, and the boys were scattered everywhere, bringing rails, logs, etc., when the Johnnie’s bugle sounded “forward,” and the Rebels raised a yell and fired a couple of volleys into us. There was a lively rush for our guns, but we saw through it in a minute, and in three minutes were at work again. Only two men were hurt in the regiment, one from Company C, and Wm. Nicholson of my company had the small bone of his leg broken just above the ankle. We got our works in shape about daylight, and about 8 a.m. I heard a cheer from our skirmishers, and saw the Rebel skirmishers run right over their works like deer. Our line followed them and took possession of their works, and no Rebel or works being in sight, and our boys knowing they were only two miles from Atlanta, thought sure they had the town, and all started on the “double quick” for it, yelling, “potatoes” or “tobacco,” or what he particularly hankered for. They got along swimmingly until within about three-quarters of a mile from town, when they ran against a strong line of works and were brought up standing, by a volley therefrom. They deployed immediately, and by the time their officers got up had a good line established, and were whacking away at the fort apparently as well satisfied as if they had got their tobaco.

McPherson had an idea that all was not right, for our line was allowed to advance no further than the one the Rebels had left, and we were set to work changing its front. At dinner when we were about leaving “the table,” Captain Smith mentioned hearing some heavy skirmishing in our rear as we came to our meal. That was the first any of us knew of the battle. In a few minutes we all heard it plainly, and from our works could see exactly in our rear a body of grey coats, advance from a wood and the battle opened, although we did not know what troops of ours were engaged. Have since heard it was a portion of the 16th Corps who were moving out to extend the line. Their being just in that position was a piece of luck, as it saved the trains of the Army of the Tennessee, and, perhaps, the whole army. I should think they fought an hour before the battle swung around toward us. During the battle, our regiment changed position three times, facing east, west and south. We helped repulse four charges, took 115 prisoners, and helped take 400 more. Also ran the enemy out of a line of works they had taken from our 3d brigade, and the best of it is, we lost only ten men. I cannot for my life see how we escaped so well. General Blair is reported to have said that the Army of the Tennessee is eternally disgraced for going outside of all precedent, in refusing to be whipped when attacked in flank and rear, as well as in front. Hood confines his strategy to maneuvering troops for battle, and pretends to be emphatically a “fighting cock.” He attacked Thomas on the 20th and 21st, away on the right, and on the 22d walked into us. He got his comb badly cut, and if I am any prophet at all, will not attempt another fight soon. Sherman estimates the enemy’s loss in the three days’ fighting at 12,000. Our loss in the same time is less than 3,500. I am surprised that we have not attacked them in return before this, but am far from anxious to charge their works. Although I do know that if we charge with two lines as good as our brigade, and don’t go too fast, we can take any ordinary works. The prisoners we got the other day were run down. When our regiment drove the Rebels out of the works of the 3d brigade, a man shot through the thigh, asked me for water as I passed him. I asked him if the Rebels robbed him, he said, no, but they killed a man in the ditch with a spade right in front of him. I looked where he pointed and found a 97th Indiana boy with his thigh broken by a pistol shot, and three cuts in his face by a spade. He was not dead, he knew me, and reached out his hand smiling. He said an officer rode up with some footmen and told him to surrender, when he shot the officer and ran his bayonet through one of the men. Another shot him, and the man he bayoneted used the spade on him. McPherson was killed early in the fight. The Rebels had his body a few minutes, but the 16th Corps charged and retook it. Altogether, it was the prettiest fight I ever saw.

The Rebel plan of attack was excellent, and if their assaulting columns had charged simultaneously, there is no telling what might have been the upshot. As it was, part of 17th Corps changed position in their breastworks three times, that is, repulsed an assault from one side, and being attacked from the rear, jumped over and fought them the other way. I was up to where the 20th and 31st Illinois fought. The dead Rebels lay about as thick on one side of the works as the other, and right up to them. Two more fights like this, and there will be no more Rebel army here. We lost about 600 prisoners, and took 2,000.

Garrard’s cavalry division went out to Covington on the Augusta road. Am just going on picket.

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