This is a letter written by my grandfather's great-grandfather on his mother's side, William C. Johnson. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War in the 11th Michigan Infantry when he was 26. This is taken from a transcription of the letter, which apparently describes his regiment's involvement in the Battle of Stones River. All spellings and grammar are original. Places where there are blanks indicate a part of the letter may have been left out or unreadable. Also, I do not know the battle order of Stones River, so this may not be entirely correct, as the versions of the letter I had differed somewhat.
The following was written by William C. Johnson (grandfather of Mrs. Irving S. Keeney) to his wife Clarissa. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, and this letter followed soon after, apparently. The letter is now nearly a hundred years old and was written in pencil. Mr. Johnson was located at the time southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. He was a farmer before joining the Army.
To give a short description of the Army, by commencing with the regiment. A regiment has ten companies, consisting of 100 men each. Each company having three commissioned officers – one captain and two lieutenants; also four field officers – colonel, lieutenant colonel, major and adjutant. The company officers are called line officers and regimental field officers. Each company goes by letter, we would suppose the regiment stood facing the
commence to the right to name the first company, on the right being A2 company, D3F4 I5, C6, H7, E8, K9, G 10 B (??)
Each regiment is allowed 4 or 5 wagons to carry provisions, ammunition and baggage, besides what the soldier carries, and one ambulance to carry the sick and wounded. It takes three regiments to compose one brigade, three brigades, one division; three divisions, one corps; the brigade by a brigadier general, the division and corps by major generals. An army consisted of three corps, General McCook on the right, General Thomas in the center, and General Critendon on the left and Rosencrans commanded the three corps. Before our march commenced for the fight, our Army lay to the East and South of Nashville, Tennessee and moved out on three roads on stone pikes. Critendon on the Lebanon pike, Thomas on the Murfreesborough pike and McCook on the Nolonville pike. Our division was second in Thomas' corps, General Negley in command and on the right of Thomas' corps we were in camp seven miles South of Nashville and followed General McCook the first day (this was Friday, and a rainy day at that.) A number of times during the afternoon we could hear cannonading in front of us and as we passed along could plainly see the effects upon the timber and the ground being torn up in places. Night found us in the vicinity of Nolonville 18 miles from Nashville. In the morning we went back one mile and went across to the Murfreesboro Pike, the mud just ankle deep. It seems that the balance of General Thomas' corps did not start until Saturday and we reached the pike, we was in front and went but a short distance before we found the enemy but in small groups and consequently did not hinder us very much. At night our brigade went in camp to the right of the road and remained over Sunday. By this time the remainder of our corps had come up and went ahead of us and when we come up at night was in line of battle skirmishing with the enemy. We went in camp here (pointing on the map) in the morning on Tuesday went to the right and halted on the East side of the cedars waiting for other troops to get in position. After a short time went farther to the right at this point (showing on the map) and five companys to the right, or right wing, went on the skirmish line after a few hours was relieved by the left wing of our regiment. My being detailed as one of the color guards, was not obliged to go on the skirmish line, yet being very anxious to learn how such business was carried out, I went within a few steps of the skirmish line, was in rear of Company F and would listen to his commands. The enemy seemed to be just over the ridge, our men on the ridge. After I had been out a short time, Lieutenant Wilson of Company F was giving a command on the right of his company and happened to get his head out in sight and one of the enemy's balls took him in the side of the head, killing him instantly. Our regiment held this position until the next A.M., or Wednesday and the 30th of December. 62, up to this time early in the morning we were relieved and was eating our morning meal when some of General Johnson's artillery horses made us a call with harness on and without guns or riders. General Johnson had been taken by surprise. General Rosencrans was preparing to attack the enemy with his left and drive his army back upon Murfreesboro, but General Bragg was too smart for him, overpowering General McCook's men and driving them back like chaff before the wind; from where we stood, could look through the woods into the open fields beyond, could distinctly see our men falling back fighting and the enemy pressing forward column after column, making terrible havoc among our men. Presently the artillery opened their batteries from right to left, shells screaming through the air, bursting over our heads. Our regiment was marched from one point to another, not being on the front line. Great excitement prevailed. We was marched up to the South edge of this little opening of about two acres and formed a line of battle facing the South, waiting for the enemy to come in range of our guns.
You will understand they were not crowding upon the center with their Infantry, but trying to swing around us; we stood here but a short time before the enemy came in sight and we were ordered to fire by rank, front rank firing first and dropping upon knees to give the rear ranks a chance. I remember as the front rank was ordered to fire, a color guard from Company F stood near me and in the rear rank, was terribly excited and wanted to shoot with the front rank. He would point this way and that way and finally pointed up and whaled a way through the tops of the trees. This was too much for me, shell or no shell, I had to roar and laugh to see that man perform. I was ashamed, but could not help it. We were here but a short time when we were marched to the East side of this opening along the edge of the woods with a battery of four guns on our right, Captain Shutts in command, we upon a rise of ground and the enemy in the woods. We were ordered to lie upon our backs to load and rise up on our knees to fire. I undertook the job, whether or not my head was downhill or not I can't say but the powder run out of the gun barrel instead of into it. I see that wouldn't do much shooting as __ and wouldn't hurt anyone and I might get a ball down and not have powder enought to __ it out. I looked up and saw a small oak tree about ten inches through, got up and stood behind that tree the remainder of my time there, loading and firing as hard as I could jump into it. While standing there, I looked to the right; our battery was silenced, not a man at the guns, horses stood there bleeding to death, one man killed while sitting upon his horse fell off to the left and the blood pouring from the wound of the horse into his face, while here the Colonel of our regiment had his horse killed under him. Here Joseph Miller, Thomas Brighty and Simon Hamilton were killed, and Jacob Pound, Peter Seeley, John Keegan, Coleman Dagon and I. Bolton, Eiveen Farmer were wounded.
As soon as the regiment had passed over us, we was ordered to rise and charge and here (on the map) was a ford across the river, but the enemy made it very unpleasant crossing there (map on the __ ) so a part of the Brigade crossed above, jumping in and waded the river and marched out about half way through this strip of woods. Here Comrade Papin was shot while standing directly behind me. He had said on Wednesday that he wished he was half as sure of going through the battle as I was, and kept with me as much as he could until he was shot. He was taken to the hospital and on the next Sunday he died. We marched to the right and our brigade captured a battery of four guns (map); it was now about night and the enemy was falling back across the clearing and our Division was ordered back across the river, leaving General Critendon's Corps to hold the line the same as before. This was the last charge made by the enemy. The fighting continued that night and the next day without any change in our lines. In the evening, it was noticed that the firing became less on the enemy's side of the line, especially to the right. General Rosencrans ordered a charge upon this line of works (map) and our Brigade was ordered to be ready at a moment's warning. I remember the night being very dark with a misting rain. The charge commenced with infantry and artillery and we lay there expecting to be called to arms every moment to give a help-hand in that battle. In about one-half hour, men commenced to yell and the firing eased. Our boys had the works and we felt very much relieved.
We were not here to exceed half an hour when we were relieved and fell back a short distance to wait further orders. All this time the right of our army were being drove and the enemy was getting in our rear. We had to fall back and while marching through the cedars, the enemy came so close upon us we had to form a line of battle, would come so close our line had to fall back or be run over and be taken for prisoners. We soon came out of the cedars very near where we started in the morning before and the enemy right after us, falling back two-thirds or more across this field we met General Rosecrans sitting upon his horse without one of his escorts. He ordered a halt, formed a new line of battle and we drove the enemy back into the cedars and held our ground. By falling back we had left all of our wounded and dead in the enemies' hands. While this fighting had been going, General Rosencrans (his reserves) from the left and formed a line of battle here (showing on the map) and they, with the help of the army that was being drove back, checked their onward course. The enemy charging ___ against our lines it seemed to me they must give way. But their doom was sealed, that line could not be broken. In a short time our brigade was relieved and held in reserve the remainder of that day and the next. On this day, Wednesday, our army became so demoralized that 10,000 of our men returned to Nashville. Constantly fighting on Thursday but no particular change in the lines in the evening General R. thought he would play one of his tricks and sent men back on the Murfreesboro pike to build fires and make all the noise they had a mind to making. The enemy believed we had been reinforced. The fighting remained about the same, mostly infantry, until late in the afternoon on Friday, our division, General Breckinridge' (Begleys) was ordered to the left to support General Critendon. Our brigade was marched in close columns to the rear of Loomises battery on the hill and was ordered to lie down. While we were lying here the battle was going at a fearful rate, all of the artillery brought into action on both sides, shot and shell coming over our heads striking the ground just to the rear of our regiment. We could see General Critendon was being drove back across the river, one regiment running over us. I remember saying if that is the way you fight we surely will be whipped.
The rest of this letter is missing.