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George S. Canfield - MMS 1211

Untold History - Battle of Chickamauga


The following very interesting sketch was read at the reunion of Company K, 21st Ohio on Friday, Aug. 28:

A Chickamauga Sketch--Geo. S. Canfield

For the reunion of Co. K, 21st O.V.
August 28, 1908

In maturer years, after the service, father and I used to discuss various characteristics of the men of our old organization, and one of the distinctive features agreed on for our company was that of faithful performance of duty. Captain Canfield said that a good motto or tribute for our boys would be "Duty Well Performed." This he said would apply to every station, from the highest to the lowest. As I assented, perhaps modesty would have suggested a mean between the two extremes, since as he represented the highest, I stood for the lowest--Captain to Drummer Boy.

This sketch will have to do with the last mentioned extreme, and one of the means, the teamster.

I was past 12 and nearing 13, in the stirring summer days of '61, when father gave me the promise, conditioned on assent of my mother, that if he went out with a company he would let me go as musician, provided I could be mustered in. I had my 15th birthday on the Chickamauga march from Murfreesboro, and at Stone River had been initiated into the musician's duty of service with the ambulance corps in time of battle, and learned how big a myth it was that any music other than that of ball and shell was provided in time of battle.

In the concentration for the battle of Chickamauga, we had marched for days and nights, and late on Saturday, September 19, '63, after moving most of the day to the sound of battle in the direction of Chattanooga, completing the flank movement against Bragg, the command, Negley's Division, halted directly at Crawfish Springs. Company K dropped at the roadside immediately over the limestone ledge from under which poured the waters of the wonderful spring. Dusty, worn and sleepy the men scattered along the side of the dusty road, or made their way to the spring. Some were doubtless too exhausted even to go for water. Father and I were of these, he dropping into a reclining position on the ground, and I, as my wont, curled down beside and rested against him. Presently he fidgeted with his right sleeve, and held it up for me to see what was "scratching him," about the wrist. I looked and found that his blouse sleeve and flannel shirt were pinned down to his wrist, and, looking further, that the pin was run through the skin, and it was all green with verdigris from the brass pin. He called me a "rascal," and said that I had done it when, the day before, he had asked me to pin up the sleeve because a button was gone. He had not noticed it before. This had occurred back at Pigeon Gap, where he had been so close to the enemy, as to see them in the day and hear their talk at night. We were out as a flankers, and our boys had shot a Confederate officer on a white horse who rode down too close to us, not knowing we were so near. Some of you witnessed the incident.

In a few minutes more a bugle call of "fall in" was heard and we sprang up only to find it was the call of another regiment. Father had picked up his sword and belt which had been taken off when we halted, and now buckled on the belt, handing me the sword, to hold for him while he did so. The roar of the battle, somewhat to our left now constantly increased, from what we had been marching to all day. As we stood waiting for the expected "fall in" Father asked me if I could not take some of the boys' canteens and fill them for them, as I often had done. I said yes, and gathered up twelve of them, handing him the sword, when he said, "I guess I will have you keep the sword, and I merely wear the belt." So with it and the canteens I turned to go down the limestone rock to the spring, leaving my other things, drum, blanket roll, haversack, etc. in a pile on the ground. The sword was a different charge, I would keep that in my hand. He said something to me, as I turned, which was drowned by a crash of artillery and battle roar out at the front and left. There was a look of great tenderness in his eyes, and somewhat of apprehension in his countenance. The words that I caught were, "We will probably be going in (into action) pretty soon." Then, as if having a divination of the great disaster that was to come, he said hurriedly, "If anything happens or we get separated, you are to go to Chattanooga, and not back the way we came." That was all, and the last word I was to hear from him for many months, his service in southern prison.

I scrambled down the ledge to the pool about the spring, where the men were crowding for places at the water. Bugle calls I heard but heeded not, so intent was I in filling the canteens. I did notice a thinning out of the men about the pool, and did notice that at the crash of battle the sound seemed heavier and more effective there at the water than it had on the road above. In my deliberation I had gone to the head of the spring, perhaps 100 feet from the pool, to get water clearer and cooler. My canteens full, I turned to the pool to see not one man there where there had been hundreds when I came. I was seized with a strange alarm, and scrambled up the rock to the road to find my--"donnage" there as I had left it, in a heap, the sword and scabbard I had in my hand; the command was gone, every solitary man of them. Other soldiers, strange of command, strange of arms and flags, but none of mine, well known and well beloved, men and flag. I was left alone on the certainly approaching battlefield--no, well perhaps not, perhaps only left behind. Yes, that was it, I was merely left behind, the command had moved on, but pshaw, it moved like a snail under such circumstances. Why, of course I would soon catch up with it. Days and nights for several days, all along over the Lookout range we had moved just a little at a time.

Thus, comforting myself I picked up my traps and started in the direction of the marching men in the road--northward. The roar of the battle ahead and on my right war all the time increasing, I knew that. Father had said we would be going in soon. Where would they go in, and how would I know. I again became shaky with apprehension. Well, I could work along to the sound of the heavy fighting, and then turn and go over to it, to my right when further along north. Yes that would be all right. And our boys, I should know them-- would know the colors, could tell Col. Stoughton as far as I could see an officer, that is if the battle smoke was not too thick. And then father would be on the lookout for me, and he might be sending one of the men to find me.

I trudged along for what seemed two hours but from the distance afterwards ascertained, was but a few minutes. I saw the sun, and it was near to night. How high the sun sets in this country, I thought, for it seemed agoing down away up above the sky line. It really was but the going down was in the bank of battle smoke banked above the bloody Chickamauga, to the west of me. The sun faded out of sight, as I looked, almost a bloody red. I reached a road turning off to the right. The crash of cannon away west on this road was very heavy. I did not know it, but this road led to the Chickamauga at Lee & Gordon's Mill, where the last passage of the Chickamauga was even then being disputed, marking our then extreme right, Rosecrans' Army, except the little portion where I was having been closed in completing his great flank movement. The battle roar and crash was now awful, and I thought it heavier than Friday's battle at Stone River. But my men, had they indeed "gone in, as father had said, and had they gone in here, by this road. How could I know? A big lump got into my throat. But I turned in and went on down the road, following a battery of artillery. An artilleryman called out to me, "Little man, jump up on the timber chest." But I kept the road. Then I began to inquire for my command from Negley's Division, for the 21st Ohio of the marching men, now some infantry. They would know my regiment, I told them, by the men having the Colt Revolving rifle. The sweat ran down my face, and my clothing was soaking wet with it. I could feel how dirty and grimy my face must be. Presently it seemed as if I suddenly became intolerably weary, as if I could hardly put one foot before another. Now men were coming, as well as going, as if there was a disaster at the front. As I got further, I could hear the screaming of shells and some burst not far before me. Then wounded men came along and numberless men with stretchers going in as if a large surgeon's corps. I felt no call to duty with it. I was intent on finding my command. I seemd to attract attention, being so small and alone and I suppose my heavy load showed. At a slight rise of the ground I came suddenly on ground where the lines had been in the earlier part of the battle, marked by many dead of both uniforms. A large body of cavalry came sweeping up from the left, and nearly ran over me. As I skudded out of the way I nearly plumped into a large handsome artillery officer who called out, "My God, little chap, what are you doing here? Don't you know that a second line is forming here, and we will be attacked right away?" I began to cry a little, and he put his hand on my shoulder as I sobbed out that I was lost, was trying to find my command. He said, as I explained it to him, that I should go right back to the other road and turn to the right there and keep right on till I came to General Rosecrans' Headquarters, where I might find out where my command had been sent.

Thank God for that kind artillery officer whoever he may have been. He never knew how he encouraged and cheered the drummer boy lost on the battlefield.

That road that I had been out on was actually only about 3-4 mile in length, but it seemed miles. Presently I was at the other road and turned north on it as directed, when something attracted my attention to a difference in the load I had been carrying, it seemed relieved. I investigated and 10 of the canteens were every one of them gone. Unconsciously I had unbuckled their straps and dropped them, one by one, along the way.

I made my way along the road crowded with troops, as directed by the officer, and noticed how long the day lasted, since I had thought it was sun down hours before. Presently there was the headquarters, on the left hand side of the road, at the Widow Glen house of history. On a flag staff at the gateway--there was no gate, was the headquarter guidon. The headquarter flag hung in limpy folds from a staff standing at one side of the door of the house. I knew the colors at sight. In battle I had seen both guidon and flag at Stone River. Saw them in Wendesday's battle there, on the Nashville pike, when their bright colors drew the fire of cannon, and one shot took off the head of Garosche, chief of staff when his horse plunging away, dragging the beheaded officer, nearly ran over me.

At the rate an orderly stopped me and asked where I was going, and I told him my trouble briefly. He very kindly said that it was not likely any one there could help me, but he did not seem to mind if I went in, and I passed through the opening, past the guidon to the door. But I only looked in and while several staff officers were in the room I saw Gen. Garfield, Chief of Staff. Staff officers and messengers were coming and going outside, but none paid me the least attention. Learning nothing, saying nothing to any one, as I now remember, I staid but a little while and passed out of the yard into the road, joining the troops pressed on in direction of the battle roar.

It was strange how the day held on, when so long before it had seemed to be sundown. However it was approaching real night fall. We went steadily on the column here and there diminishing as a portion fled off the right, towards the firing. Twice I turned in with the troops, and renewed my inquiries of the soldiers of aides and messengers for my regiment and my division. I learned nothing. It was as if they had been entirely wiped out, suddenly perished to a man. Each time more disheartened I returned to the main road. A little further I came to a pond of water and around it lay men, as if at bivouack, but I quickly saw it was the dead marking ground fought over earlier in the day. The pond was the "Bloody Pond" of history. A little further, and it was getting too dark to follow the road; and dangerous among the masses of troops. Presently the road became packed, and I climbed over a rail fence boundary of a cornfield. The spot is directly opposite the present Chickamauga railroad station. I seemed overcome with the impulse to rest, to try no more, and going back a little into the corn, dropped down between two rows, and was almost immediately asleep.

When I awoke it was from the shock of battle very near, nearer than the night before, and the sun was half way up the sky, it seemed. Surely something dreadful was happening, the way the troops were rushing in and out. I feared a defeat from signs I had noted at Stone River, the anxious looks of aides and orderlies riding at full speed, the wild eyes of stragglers now pouring along, some wounded and some unhurt but without their guns, a sure sign, and the battle now crashing so much nearer the main road, as if the line had been driven back on us. I left my blanket burden on the ground, and with the other articles including the sword and my drum, set out along the field fence, got over into the road, and before I could realize what had happened, I was in flight along with the broken right of Rosecrans' army!

It was the Dry Valley road that I was on, and it was rapidly becoming no road, but a sea of fleeing men. Ahead of me, where a bunch of mounted men stood on a little rise of the ground, I recognized the guidon and battle flag that had been at the Widow Glen house the night before. So the general was retreating too, I thought. It must be bad enough. Then I though that perhaps he was just moving more to the center. Whatever the situation "Old Rosy" would straighten things out, for he did at Murfreesboro. An orderly came riding swiftly toward us, and reining in his horse, inquired for the commander of the troops there. There was no command, it was a mob of wild men. The orderly spoke to an officer and told him to gather up the men and form them across the road, and stop all the retreating men at the point of the bayonet. He rode away, and nothing came of the order, we just went right on as a mass. As it floated past the general and his staff still standing on the rise of ground, I was crowded out into the woods opposite and could not see what he was doing. The woods full of men, all in retreat and becoming more and more demoralized. When I got into the road again, it was blockaded with teams of a wagon train. The soldiers forced the teams out of the way, here and there, breaking up the train. I fell in behind one of the wagons drawn by six mules, and to relieve myself lifted my drum up into the canvas opening at the rear, trudging along behind. As the wagon would drop into some hole, I could get glimpses of the driver's head and neck. I was not tall enough to see otherwise. Presently he looked back and caught sight of me and called to me to climb in, and the teamster was dear old Brit Russell of Company K. As I got onto the seat beside him he put an arm about me and I guess would have kissed me if I had not been so grimy and unkissable. As it was, I laid my head over on his sturdy shoulder and sobbed a little, but not for much for there were things claiming other attention than to one's personal feelings. We were running right into the battle line, where it was forced back by the now victorious enemy. Artillery guns were belching from the ridge, to the right, and the enemy's shot were hurtling over and around us. Brit got a clear space and got his team of six into a gallop. A shell burst over the wheel mules, almost in our faces as we sat in the seat, knocking one of the mules down with the shock, but it, as we, were unhurt, and the animal scrambling to its feet, the pace was resumed. Plunging down the road which dropped into the Valley, we were soon out of direct range, the cannon shot going above, and out into the woods. The road was now condensing again, with routed men. They poured from every part of the west side of the road, coming most from a point opposite what I afterward learned was Snodgrass Hill, where at the moment that Brit and I passed, our brave regiment was massed to check the enemy and save the day!

We were 10 miles out from Chattanooga where Britt said he was ordered to go with the wagon train which agreed with father's instruction to me. The story of the trip in, and back to the battlefield the next day should be told at another time. Suffice it to say that we were in the midst of the rout, the whole distance, and all its horrors of demoralization, its wounded, its exhibitions of rank cowardice. Human fear differs only in degree from that of the animal. A wild deer came out of the woods into the road, along with a mass of men, worked its way among them, crossed in front of our team, worked its way into the woods on the other side of the road, and disappeared at a gentle trot. Any man could have put his arm around the creature's neck, but no one noticed it in the least. After a while General Rosecrans and staff rode rapidly past us, and we came up to the party a short distance out from Rossville. I noticed that General Garfield was not there. The commander and staff sat facing the battle ground, and there was a road leading from there back toward the firing which was now very heavy and steady; and well it might be so described for it was Thomas' guns on Snodgrass Hill. The commander and staff wheeled about and went off at a gallop toward Chattanooga. Garfield had left them to bear Rosecran's message to Thomas that he would go into Chattanooga and fortify.

It was dark when we reached Chattanooga, and directed by officers apparently assigned for the purpose of directing the formation, crossed the Tennessee on the pontoon bridge, and "unhitched" in a cornfield by the river bank. The next morning Brit informed me that he was going back in search of the company, as they would need grub. I think he acted entirely on his own responsibility, on that sentiment for "Duty Well Performed." How we got out through the lines, which during the night had been formed about the city, I cannot say, but doubtless by ruses of Brit. On the way out to Rossville--in the new line of Thomas was near that point--we scanned faces continually, and made many inquiries for our men. Only one, in the whole fives miles, did we recognize, and that was Bob Forrest. I did not know him, so horribly was his face burned from exploding cartridges. But he could see and knew us. He gave him some directions about the hospitals and the arms dispositions, etc., but he could give us no information about the company as he had been hurt early in the day before.

Reaching the remnant of the army near Rossville, on the new line, it was not difficult to run down our command. A soldier said that there was some men with the revolving rifles just over there in the woods. Brit turned the team in that direction, and I went in search afoot. In a few hundred yards I saw a short line of those guns stacked but only one man up in sight, the rest asleep on the ground scattered about. The man called to me by my nickname of "Cutty." It was bluff sergeant Jim Inman. He said first that this was all that was left of the regiment, I later counted 42 guns stacked, and in the same breath broke my personal news to me thus. "The old man's gone, Cap (my father) fell in the last first after dark." What else he may have said I cannot now tell, but it seemed as if what he had said blotted me out. I next found myself seated in the wagon tongue of Brit's wagon.

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