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

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John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

September 24, 2013

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

Letter No. XVI.

By Camp-fire, 2½ Miles from Chattanooga,
September 24th, 1863.

My Precious Wife:

God has heard your prayers, and through His mercy I am preserved through the perils of another great battle, far more dangerous in its individual and personal incidents to our brigade than any of the war. The oldest soldiers agree that they have never seen the like. The line of battle was only about two and a half miles long, and we advanced upon each other in column after column, one pushing on as another fell back. We were in open woods (neither party having any breastworks worthy the name), and coming up face to face, bayonet to bayonet. Our company got into a very hot place. The musketry was almost continuous from early morning till late in the evening for two days. It occurred about ten miles from Chattanooga, in the northwest corner of Georgia, on the Chickamauga river. Our casualties (Company E) as follows: Captain Joe Billingsly, Lieutenant Allen Killingsworth, privates — Miller, Tom Norwood, — Hicks, and Whitehead, killed; Sam Chambers and Durham Holloway, severely wounded and missing; Boze Chapman, J. W. Pamplin, Billy Burton and Fred Makeig, wounded, respectively in the thigh, hand, arm and neck. I got mixed up with the Yanks by being too fast. I have the credit of doing some good work at close quarters. When their line was broken, I took my bayonet off my musket because it hurt my hand in loading rapidly, and just as I put it in the scabbard one fellow took a fair shot at me in an open place about thirty steps off. The bullet hit the handle of my bayonet, which had not been in my belt two seconds, and knocked the handle entirely off. It was driven against me with great force, blinding and sickening me so that I fell and was supposed to be fatally wounded. It seems to me that a thousand bullets and grapeshot tore up the ground around me. As soon as I was able I crawled to a tree and afterwards to the rear, to the field hospital in a barnyard, where I remained all night. I was pretty sore but able to march, so I went back to the line of battle early next morning. I thought of Waco and its peaceful days and the sweet-faced, innocent children on their way to church.

Our brigade went in again about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and I received a lick from something, I do not know what, on the wrist, which was very painful for a day or two, but when we found that the Yankees were gone and the field was ours, I was much rejoiced. Many of these Yankee soldiers were Germans who could not speak English. I got, on the battlefield, a new blue-backed Webster spelling book, which I will send home to the children.

I got a splendid gun and accouterments, plenty of paper and a nice pair of woolen gloves. I cannot speak of the movements of the army, for I know nothing. I know that we are now in line of battle at the foot of Lookout Mountain and expect an attack in the morning. Our pickets had some skirmishing this afternoon, but the main body did not advance. I trust that God will spare my life, and have prayed Him to watch over you and the little ones if I am taken. You must not hope to get my body if I am killed, as it will be impossible to do otherwise than leave me on the field in a soldier’s careless grave.

I stopped in Columbia two days when passing and found all well but Douglas De Saussure, who is suffering from a wound in the shoulder received at Charleston. You have some new cousins in Columbia—the Wilkinsons—refugees from New Orleans. Mrs. Wilkinson’s name was Mary Stark. They are nice, sweet girls. Their father was colonel of a Louisiana regiment and was killed at Manassas.

At Chickamauga General Hood was wounded in the right leg and it has been amputated. As we were going into the fight he rode down the line in our rear towards our right. He said: “Move up, men; those fellows are shooting in the tops of the trees.” We thought then that he was a little too close in. The old Texas brigade is fearfully cut up. There are not more than 150 in our regiment. The Fifth numbers about 100 and the First about the same. There is said to be a company in the First Texas with one officer and no men left; another has one man left. Our company has about twenty-five men. Of course there is exaggeration in these statements, but we are terribly thinned out. All of the men whose names I have given above as killed or wounded fell in a space of not more than sixty feet square, except Captain Billingsley, who was killed at a different place on the afternoon of the second day, as we backed out from a charge across an open field, which got too hot to stay in. As I went to the rear after being wounded, I met General Benning of Georgia. He was bareheaded and riding an artillery horse with the harness on him. He said, “Where are you going?” I showed him my wound. He said, “Great God! is everybody killed? I have lost my brigade.” It did look in some spots as if the killed outnumbered the living.

There was a gallant Wisconsin officer killed in front of our Fourth Texas. One of the litter-bearers gave me his sword, which I carried to the field hospital. It was beautifully mounted and engraved, “Captain Haup, Company E, Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteers.”

You must keep in good spirits and don’t allow yourself to mope or feel uneasy. God knows best, and if I am hurt it is all right. Sometimes my faith is unwavering and I feel perfectly safe, and I have no doubt that He will watch over you and the little ones. Kiss them for me every day and go on with your Latin and music. May God and the good angels guard you.

Your husband, faithfully ever,

John C. West.

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