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

Post image for A Soldier’s Diary — David Lane.

A Soldier’s Diary — David Lane.

November 14, 2013

A Soldier's Diary, The Story of a Volunteer, David Lane, (17th Mich. Vol. Infantry)

Lenoir, Tenn., November 14th, 1863.

We have been under orders for several days to be ready to fall in at a minute’s notice. That order was repeated at 3 o’clock this morning. We had become so accustomed to it, we began to think it only form, and meant nothing. At sunrise, however, we were startled by the order, “Pack everything and be ready to march immediately, bag and baggage.” Officers’ baggage was put on wagons, the sick in ambulances, supplies of food and clothing—a fresh supply had but just arrived—were reloaded, and the whole train headed toward Knoxville.

Our consternation can better be imagined than described. Every movement spoke of evacuation; of hasty, inglorious retreat. About 10 o’clock the cars came screaming in from Knoxville, bringing General Bumside. The wagon train was nearly formed, and, in half an hour, everything would have been ready for a general stampede. At 10 o’clock the bugle sounded fall in, and off we started toward Loudon. It soon leaked out the Rebels are crossing six miles below Loudon, and Burnside’s arrival had changed the program. So away we went, through rain and mud, fourteen miles without stopping to rest, rejoicing it was not, after all, an ignominous retreat. We halted a little after dark in a thick wood, with orders to light no fires, but remain beside our arms, ready to fall in when called on. It had been very warm during the day, raining at times, and those not wet with rain were wet with sweat. Toward night the wind had changed, and it was bitter cold. And there we sat, two hours or more, cold and hungry, having eaten nothing since morning. The men began to grow impatient. The First Brigade were on our left, and fires burned brightly all along their line. Why could not we have fires? Tom Epley, of our company, thought we could, and away he goes for a coal of fire, while others gather wood and kindlings. But our lynx-eyed Adjutant discovers it, and down he comes. “Who built that fire?” says he. “I did, sir,” says Tom. “Didn’t you know ’twas against orders?” “No, sir; I thought the order was one fire to a company, sir.” “You must put it out.”

“Then how the h—1 are we to cook? Do you think we can march all day in rain and mud and eat flour and raw beef?” “It’s tough, boys,” says the Adjutant, “but that’s the order.” Tom did not put out the fire, but built it larger, and soon the order came, “One fire to a company.”

We kept our fires brightly burning all night, expecting each moment the coming order. At 4 o’clock it came. Fall in, boys, very quietly, and quick as possible. Then, “about face,” and off we went in the darkness, taking precisely the route we came. What was the meaning of this backward move? Our officers agreed it was to draw them out from the river that we might cut off their retreat and “bag them,” as is our custom. We marched slowly and reached Lenoir about 2 p. m., when we formed in line of battle. At dark the Eighth Michigan was thrown out as skirmishers, or outpost pickets. They advanced about four miles on the Jamestown road, and as they formed their last post were fired on by Rebel pickets. The Rebels then rallied their skirmishers and charged the Eighth, which fell back to within a mile of our line of battle. They then faced about, charged the advancing Rebels, drove them a short distance, and held them until relieved. I now began to see how matters stood. The enemy had pursued us promptly and with energy; we were in line of battle awaiting an attack. Would they attack us before daylight? Probably not, as we held a good position. Will we await an attack or retire during the night? Of the latter I was confident, judging by what I saw and heard. Fires were kept up along the whole line, and some of the boys, worn out with fasting and marching, wrapped themselves in their blankets and lay down and slept. But there was no sleep for me, and there I sat, listening to every sound, watching every move. Two trains of cars, heavily loaded with supplies, crept slowly away toward Knoxville, the very engines seeming to hold their breath fearful of exciting suspicion. The distant rattle of wheels told me the wagon train was falling into line, and the bright glare of fire at the depot spoke of government property being sacrificed because there was no time to remove it. At 2 o’clock I heard the artillery on the hill near us, and which we were supporting, move away and join the train. A few minutes later we followed the artillery, silent as an army of spectres. Our regimental Surgeon and his staff occupied a tent a few rods in the rear of the regiment. Before we had proceeded a dozen yards I missed them and asked our Captain if they had gone on ahead. He seemed puzzled, as their place was in the rear. Perhaps, he said, they were not notified —had been overlooked in the confusion—if so, they will be captured. I asked permission to go back and warn them of their danger. I found them soundly sleeping in their tent, aroused them, and in a few hurried whispers explained the situation—then struck across the fields for the Knoxville road. About two miles distant we came across a body of troops resting beside stacked arms. Near by we found our regiment, and all was well.

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