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FIELD DIARY OF PRIVATE JAMES P SNELL

Extracts from the field diary of Private James P Snell, of a Union soldier, Co. "A", Illinois volunteers: - With special thanks to Mr John Purcell of Taccoa, Georgia, for supplying these articles and much more. The articles are shown exactly as Pvt. Snell wrote them., spelling errors and all.

(Battle of Atlanta)
July 22, 1864

A.M. Heavy cannonade on our right and left, but apparently much nearer the city, than at sundown, last night. Our lines made a considerable advance last even'g.

The 2d Brig. Took an advanced position with the 2d in reserve - the 4th div. being to the rear, between us and Decatur.

[ ]:40 A.M. Orders have just come for our div. and the 4th of the 16th corps to move over to the extreme left.

[ ]:30 A.M. 2d Div. started. Moved down to the railroad, and thence by Gen. Blair's HdQrs a mile and a half south-east. The 52d Ill. did not move when the rest did, as it was on picket and not relieved. The 16th corps did get into position, on Blair's left before noon. The 4th Div. (Gen. F.H. Fuller) on the right; 2d Div. (Rice's and Morsey's Brigades) Gen. T.W. Sweeny, on their left. Morsey held the extreme left of the army - no troops east of him or in his advance.

About noon - One of the heaviest engagements of this campaign took place; a general assault was made by the enemy on every corps of the left wing, almost simultaneously. Nearly the whole of Hoods army were massed on McPherson's command, - the brave but depleted "Army of the Tennessee!"

Having tried the right wing ("Army of the Cumberland") yesterday and being repulsed, Hood resolved to try and turn the left flank, by a do-or-die assault. He was confident of success: - he had the afternoon before (21st) selected two of the best corps of his army. - those of Polk and Hardie - and after giving their commanders special instructions and the troops a spirited address exhorting them to heroic deeds, and assuring them of victory, with great [xx] from the enemy.) sent them forth on their errand of blood and plunder.

They were to annihilate three corps of infantry, and then walk into our supply and ordnance trains, which they knew were parked in the vicinity of Decatur. It was a desperate move, and exposed Atlanta. Had it been successful it would have been a terrible blow to our army, to our cause. It would have been successful too, had it not been for our own, little good-for-nothing division. Such is the unanimous testimony of all the generals commanding of this army.

Genl. Morgan L. Smith, after the battle was over, said to Gen. Sweeny - "By G-d, General, your troops saved this army!"

The feeble picket-line of the 17th corps were the only troops to the left of that corps and in front of the position the 16th was to occupy. But what mattered it; no rebs were known to be there, and none were expected. Our Generals had forgotten that Hood was known among the Confederates as the "flanking general"!

While the 2d division was moving up, an orderly came in from the picket-line, and reported that the cavalry videttes in front had (been) seen troops moving eastward, past them so close to their line that they heard the commands - "Halt! - front - right dress! Etc.", Gen, S. then ordered a reconnaisance, to ascertain, but he was inclined to regard it as a "scare" as he did the report rec'd just before that mounted rebels had been seen in the vicinity of GenL. Blair's hdQrs. The return of the party satisfied him that the enemy were there in considerable force; and he reported the fact, and promptly ran his two brigades into line on the left. While doing this, the enemy's advance had halted, for a reconnaisance of our lines. This gave us time to be prepared. Had they advanced at that time, the result would have, undoubtedly, been far different, or, had Sweeny's Div. arrived a half-hour later, we should more likely have had to acknowledge a defeat, than record a victory - our army might have been put to a disgraceful route-Atlanta lost- and many lay in Southern Prisons.

12 M. When the enemy emerged from the woods the 17th pickets gave way in confusion, They advanced boldly, thinking to meet no opposition, as they could see no Federals "on the horizon". Laird's (14th Ohio Bat'y of 4th Div. 16th) battery, way to the front, in a much exposed position, was special mark for their sharpshooters; and soon after their infantry column came advancing up the hill, to capture it, as seemingly unprotected. The gunners gave them the best they had in store, but it was without avail-the fire of the guns could not stop such an avaricious set. They advanced toward it as toward easy prey, counting much upon their strength. The six regiments of our division went up to the support of the battery, on a double-quick, but reserved fire, until the enemy were close on the guns. Bravely, and stoically they received the fire of two rebel veteran divisions (Bates and Cheatham's) and when close enough to "count noses" gave them a raking fire, volley on volley - Walker's Bat'y (H 1st Mo.) to their left and rear, throwing grape and canister down a ravine, over the heads of the 66th Ill. boys into the rebel ranks, forcing them off the hill. Then, without giving them time to recover from the staggering blow they had already received the 81st Ohio and 12th Ill. wheeled and charged them obliquely. It is needless to add that the "Johnnies" retired in haste! It was, without doubt, the coup d'etat of the battle!

The second time the foe charged, they came on with more determination, but the result was the same. The third time our boys exhausted their cartridge-boxes on them, and then used the bayonet, and they retired again.

And yet, twice more, determined not to be baulked did they charge; but failed to budge the 'veteran 2d' a single inch. It was the first fair, face-to-face, field fight, our boys had had, since the engagement of Corinth, and they were in for a display of their skill at charging or repulsing them. They cheer, and threw up their hats, while their one-armed commander waved his hand excitedly, as the fight progressed, proudly exultant of the gallant bearing and pluck shown by his men! The regiments who participated in these engagements, deserve a prominent place on the "Roll of Honor" and a lasting remembrance in the hearts of the people of our country!

They were:

  • 2d Iowa Inft. Vols. (veterans) Lt. Col. Noel B. Howard, 1st Brig.
  • 7th Iowa Inft. Vols. (veterans) Lt. Col. Jas. B Parrot, Col. E.W. Rice
  • 66th Ind. Inft. Vols. (veterans) Lt. Col. Roger Martin 2d Brig.
  • 81st Ohio Inft. Vols. (veterans) Lt. Col. R.N. Adams, Col, Aug Mersey
  • 12th Ill. Int. vols. (veterans) Lt. Col. H. Van Sellars,
  • 66th Ill. Inft. Vols.(veterans) Capt. Wm S Boyd.

The result, of this hard work was:- Four stands of colors (2d Iowa captures 1; 66th Ill. 1 and 81st Ohio 2) Seven hundred and fourteen stands of small arms, and large numbers not yet gathered up. Four 20 pdr, Parrotts, of De Grasse's Bat'y were re-taken by the 2d Brig. Seven hundred and eighty-one prisoners were captured by the Div.

One hundred and fifty rebel dead were found on the front of the 1st Brig. and buried, while many are yet unburied, and some cannot be reached being outside the pickets. The number buried on the front of Mersey's Brig. is not reported, but it is very large, being as thick in places as to be impossible to step between them. These latter were buried in the rifle-pits they had dug by their own hands - a little dirt was thrown over, and they had a nameless grave!

The rebel loss in the rebel divisions that charged Sweeny so oft is estimated at over 2,000 killed and wounded, above rather than below that figure.

A large number or rebel wounded fell into our hands, - our hospitals contain two grey to one blue.

Among them was Col. Gwin, Comd'g a Tenn. Reg.t (37th I think) in Cheatham's div., who died in the 15th corps hospital this evening. To accomplish all those gains.

Our loss -in the entire div. was only, distributed as follows:-

  • Killed: C.O. - 2, E.M. - 33;
  • Wounded: C.O. - 6, E.M. - 166;
  • Missing: C.O. -, E.M. - 3.    210 Total.

The names of the Officers lost in our div. Are as follows;-

  • Killed
    1. Capt. Charles Lane, "K" 81st O.V. Inft.
    2. 1st Lieut. Hezekiah Hoover, "K" 81st O.V. Inft.
  • Wounded
    1. Lt. Col. Noel B. Howard, 2d Iowa Inft. -Comd'g.
    2. Capt. Geo Heaton "E" 2d Iowa Inft. (severely in breast)
    3. Col. Aug. Mersey 9th Ill. Comd'g 2d Brig.
    4. Maj. A.K.Campbell 66th Ill (Act'g on Gen. Sweeny's Staff)
    5. 1st Lieut. W.H. Saunders "F" 66th Ill.
    6. 1st Lieut. H.K.S. Robinson "I" 81st O.V.I.
    7. Capt. T.D.Mitchell "H" 66 Ills
  • Wolker's Bat'y lost 6 horses, killed, Sweeny's orderly, 1; 66 Ills 2 No artillery, or small-arms, not any prisoners except 3 supposed to be captured by enemy, lost by our Div.

Long toward evening, about 6 P.M. Mersey went over to re-inforce the 15th corps, which had been hard pressed for some time. Wood's (late Osterhaus') div. was broken in three different portions of their line, although they held their ground, until the 2d Brig. of our div. arrived, which was just as a battalion supporting one of its batteries were giving way, and the enemy coming down on the battery. Mersey, the funny German revolutionist of '48, charged a rebel brigade under a Col. Mercer, (whose wounded men, in our hospitals said "That d-d Dutch officer, whose men fought us with "pump" guns," (meaning the 16-shooter) "hadn't any mercy on we-uns!") and not only drove him back, but captured a large number of prisoners, and re-took four guns of the batterys which was DeGrasse's. After this effort, he fell to the rear of the 15th, as support.

In this charge he lost his favorite horse, which he loved as a child, and would not have taken a farm for,-shot dead, the ball giving him a slight flesh wound, on the leg, when it came out. When his horse fell, he looked down on his inanimate pet, and exclaimed, - "Mein Gott! Poor Bill ish dead! - he fights no more mit me!" - mounted a new horse, and rode to the head of his troops again.

Some of the prisoners taken by our troops were literally fished out of the mud, an pulled out of the trenches by the hair of their head! A rebel lieutenant told me, he would not have been a prisoner, but for jumping into a rifle pit, for cover and sticking fast in the mud. The 2d Div. 16th corps charged Gen. Fuller's front twice.

6.30 pm These charges I have mentioned lasted till near dark, before the enemy became wearied, and ceased their demonstrations on the left.

The 52nd Ill. had only one casualty - Chas. Knickerbocker, (of Aurora) Co. "A" wounded.

11 A.M.         OUR GREATEST LOSS:

was the fall of Maj. Gen. Jas. B. McPherson, the commander of our army, who has led us through "fire and flood", from the Chickamauga to this ensanguined field, to be almost the first victim on the altar of Mars. He fell early in the day, while riding out to the front to find the position of Fuller's command, which he supposed had advanced, -but it had not come up yet. His horse was shot in four different places. His body, being outside of the lines, after the 17th pickets fell back, (and his fall was not known till after that) it was sometime before we could recover his body; when found, his coat was sans buttons, and his pockets stripped. He was taken, in the ambulance, to Gen. Sherman's Hd.Qrs. near town. 2 p.m.

After he fell Gen. John A. Logan, assumed Com'd of the "Army of the Tenn"; Genl Morgan L. Smith of the 15th Corps, and [Lightbrown (ed. note: not sure about this word)] of Smith's Division.

Gloomy will be the heart, and dim the eyes, when the anxious ones at home peruse in the newspaper columns, the hasty telegrams of this terrible battle, and scan the long lists of "fallen heroes." It is estimated that aggregate loss in the 3 corps of this army, is over 5,000 and that of the enemy 12,000.

**************************

To-night we not only hold our position, of yesterday and this morning, but we have given Hood a lesson he will not soon forget. Our works have been so strengthened that a repetition, will cost them dearer than today.

Since dark not a shot has been fired on whole front. But in the rear there is bustle; ambulances are bringing in the dead and wounded-hospitals are crowded, and amputation-tables busy. Soldiers walking hurriedly about, or resting, cooking around the camp-fires, completes the evening scene.

July 25th, 1864

11 a.m. Coyningham, "Herald's" special on the right, called on me just now. He gave me a letter from Shanks, and some personal directions, and intended to see the Genl. but he was out to the front, and did not return, until C. was gone; he says the firing on the right yesterday was nothing of account - only a skirmish fire.

2 p.m. just after dinner, while we were writing in the office and the Staff officers were around the General's tent, Genl. Dodge and his Staff and Genl. Fuller came up. They were engaged in a conversation, which I did not hear. All at once I heard loud and excited voices, and the words "You are a liar", "You are a G-d D--d scoundrel!- "A son of a bitch" - "a liar" - "Thief"! etc. and blows and a scuffle between two stars or more, amid cries of "hold! Etc., Different staff officers tried to separate them. Among other things, a challenge was given, and repeated, and the finale was the Brig. was put in arrest by the Major General. The General, so long our leader, and with whom I have been so long, acknowledged the order of arrest, but refused to give up his sword. It lasted about ten minutes.

2:30 p.m. soon after, Col. E.W.Rice, 7th Iowa Inft. comd'g 1st Brig. was assigned to the command of the Div., and about dark Gen.. T.W.S. rec'd an order (S.F.O.) from D & A Tenn. to proceed to Nashville, Tenn, and await trial by G.C.M. on charges preferred. "Thus have the mighty fallen!"

By a late military order the people of Tenn. are prohibited from shipping grain and forage north, as it is all wanted for Sherman's Army. The supplies for this army are hereafter to be drawn from Marietta and Vining's Station - trains to proceed and return by way of Pace's Ferry. (per S.F.O. 77 D & A.T. July 24th)

8.15 p.m. Half a dozen signal rockets have gone up in the vicinity of Atlanta, or from the right of our lines, beyond the city, which we, on the left, construe to say "the rebels are evacuating Atlanta!" If it is not this, and be sent by rebel hands, it must mean an attack or grand movement. It was reported this p.m. that we were to be favored by the enemy with a night assault tonight. It would seem our generals think so, as that part of the 16th corps which was down at Decatur, not long ago filed by our headquarters to the front; and a Div. (3d) of "2d. A.C. is moving in column up into the rear of the 17th corps. It is said that the enemy have been massing to-day on the front of Logan to a considerable extent.

9 P.M. It is stated, by a staff officer, that the rockets went up, were shot by the 17th corps, or from a signal station on its front. To inform the right of our being in position, etc.

Monday July 25, 1864

In front, of Atlanta, to S.E.

We are having damp, chilly nights for this time of year. Was so cold last night, I could not sleep, and got up at 2 a.m. Tried to write, but my hands were too stiff, so I went out to a fire and remained.

Moved our headquarters three or four hundred yds south, close to the batteries and breastwork of our infty line, yesterday, just before dusk. It is in a fine location, on high ground, just to the rear of the line of battle, and the late battle field. It would be a very unhealthy place in case of a general engagement.

10 o'clock a.m. All night long, and to the present moment, a very spirited fire has progressed on the right -- object or result, not known as yet.

July 26th, 1864

Extreme left of Army of the Tenn.

Genl. Sweeny left to-day for Nashville, Tenn. taking with him Lt. Davidson (A.D.C. of his staff) and Lane, his private servant. Church is to drive him down to the railroad in a wagon, and Simpson and Downey go along, as far as the river.

Genl. Jno. M Corse (of Iowa) assumed command of our Div. to-day per G.O. No. 20 of our Hdqrs. per instructions from Gen. Dodge. He was lately acting on Gen. Sherman's staff, as A.A. Inspector General.

Everything very quiet on our flank - considerable cannonading on the right. In the afternoon we learned that our wing was to make another flank movement, the movement to commence at midnight. We picked up tents, desks, etc., and sent three of our Hdqrs. wagons to the rear, along with the Div. in the p.m. only retaining one at Hd Qrs to take along with us.

Wrote comm, in eve'g for Herald, addressed it to Shanks, Nashville, (sent it with mail of 4th div.)

Commenced moving at midnight, Crossed R.R. took main Atlanta road, on north side of R.R. for a mile, and then took Pace's Ferry road (N.W.) to rear of Schofield, and halted at daylight near the right of his corps, and in its rear.

The following is a copy of Genl. Sweeny's farewell address: -

Quarters near Atlanta, Ga.,
July 25th, 1864
To the Officers and Soldiers of the 2d Div. 16th A.C.

"For resisting an accusation of falsehood your general has been deprived of his command, and ordered to Nashville, in arrest.

Before leaving, he is constrained to express to you, his admiration of the heroic manner in which you repulsed the terrific assault of the enemy upon your lines, on the 22nd inst. Feeling every confidence in you , he had looked for the display by you of the ordinary fortitude of soldiers, in the hour of conflict,- but you did more than this: - with empty cartridge-boxes, and lines unbroken, you stood, trusting to your bayonets, like a wall between your Country and ruin. At the order to "Charge!" you rushed upon the advancing columns of the enemy, and snatched victory, colors, and hundreds of prisoners from them. As if not content with the victories already won, the 2d Brig. moved with alacrity, to a distant part of the field, and charged like an avalanche upon a victorious column of the enemy, assisting in re-establishing our lines to their former position, and again prisoners and re-captured cannon were the result of their efforts.

Your general confesses to you, freely, that the evening of the 22nd inst. was the proudest moment of his life - made so by your daring, your fortitude, your heroism and it was his desire to lead our victorious banner into the doomed city on our front, but this is not to be, and it is only left with him, to request of you to extend to your future commander, the confidence, and cheerful obedience you have shown to him.

(signed) T.W. Sweeny, Brig. Genl. Vols

The general was deeply pained at leaving the command he had been with so long. Gen. rice shed tears at the parting. He rode off on his horse, accompanied by Lieuts Davidson, and Barry, Lane, Simpson and Downey. (the two last mentioned are only going to the river) and church driving a wagon containing his baggage. The genl. called out to us "Good-bye, boys!" as he rode off.

Gen. Gorse assumed command in compliance with the following orders.

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI.

In the field, near Atlanta, Ga. July 26, 1864

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS No. 43

I. Upon the application of Major General John A. Logan, commanding the Army of the Tennessee in the field, Brigadier General of this Army, is hereby relieved, and assigned to duty with the Army and Department of the Tennessee and will report, in person, to General Logan that he may be assigned to duty according to his rank with troops.

II. The General Commanding, in thus relieving General Gorse from a purely staff position to enable him to accept the higher and more appropriate one in connection with troops in actual service, thanks him for the personal and official services rendered during the present campaign near his person.

By Order of Major General W.T. Sherman.
L. M. Dayton, Aide-de-camp. Assistant Adjutant General.

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE

Before Atlanta, Ba. July 26, 1864

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS No. 19 Extr.

V. Brig. Gen. J.M. Corse, having reported to these Hdqrs for duty, in accordance with S.F.O. No. 43, Hd. Qrs. Mil'y Div'n of the Miss. will forthwith report to Maj. Gen. G.M. Dodge, Comd'g L.W. 16th A.C. for assignment to the command of the 2d Div. 16th A.C."

By order of Maj. Gen. Jon. A. Logan.

(signed) Wm. T. Clark, A.A. Genl.


July 28th, 1864

The 2d Brig of our corps again help Logan.

Between one and two p.m., the rebel, had flanked clear to the right of the Div. Of Morgan L. Smith, on the extreme right and as he was making a desperate attempt to hold his line, his troops were exposed to a severe fire on their front and flank. Morsy's Brig., New commanded by Lt. Col. Jesse J. Phillips of the 9th Ill. Inf. Started about one P.m. on a double quick to his assistance. Went to extreme right, and arrived as the enemy were advancing up a hill on the right and rear of Smith. The 12th and 6th Ill 81st Ohio, advanced, drove the enemy back, and held him in check until reinforcements arrived from the left.

The fighting was nearly all over, on the right, by five p.m. after which hour the enemy made no demonstration in force, but once tried to advance their skirmish line and failed.

To-nite the corps of Logan and Blair will have the fortifications with which they will bid defiance to any charges of the enemy.

Between the two diverse opinions concerning our future,-(one that we will have the city within ten days,-the other that we will have another Chickamauga fight, in loss time,-) there are every gradation of prophecy imaginable.

Capt, L.H. Everts, our A.A. General returned this p.m. from home, after quite an absence. He is not entirely well, but looks much better than when he went.

Sent "brief" to Shanks about today's engag't and added a p.s. in regard to drawing pay.

Wrote home and endorsed some old letters and prepaid by 10 ct. stamp.

Evening those who have been over the battlefield, on the front of Logan and Blair, say that there are over one thousand dead revels there, as if by a living wall of fighting rebels. Among them are three rebel colonels, and many other officers.

Gen. Sherman and some of his staff were at our Hd Qrs. to-day, and Gen. Dodge and Staff took dinner with Gen. Corse, etc. Sherman left our HdQrs and rode out to the front, was greeted with cheers along the lines - soon after one of his orderlies had a horse shot from under him by a rebel sharpshooters.

Gen. Logan took comm'd of his corps this a.m. and about 11 o'clock we heard his troops halloing lustily at his return.

July 29th Very quiet on our front, today, -recent engagements and the extreme heat, disposing both forces to enjoy a little respite from the hot work of engaging each other. There is "no rest for the weary" for when gunpowder is not being burnt, in front, movements take place in the rear.

The 2d Brig. returned from extreme right, this morning, and took position in reserve of the 1st Brig. of our Div. They inform me that they lost but few men yesterday.

7 P.M. the rebel dead are about all "covered" on the front of our right wing. The 20th corps are now moving around, via of our rear, to the extreme right. It is said that the 14th corps or a portion of it is to follow.

Dave Murphy, left sick at Roswell, ret'd to-day. He came from the Hosp't of Marietta, where he experienced good treatment. He stayed with Col, Sam'l Ross, U.S.A., (comd'g 20th Ct. Vols) now comd'g the post and garrison of Marietta. The garrison is composed of 3 reg'ts, vis:- 2d Minn,. 5th Tenn, and 100th Ind. Inf.

Yesterday evening after the enemy's shelling had ceased, Capt. Barte, of the 52nd Ill. picked up some of the 12 pd. Solid shot, that had fallen in their camp, and looking at them said, "I don't see that any of these are marked 'Barte!'".

He sent them over to Lt. Bledgeft, comd'g Welker's Bat'y, with his compliments, and the request that he w'd "send them back to the rebels, as he had no use for them."

Our loss yesterday cannot exceed 500, and may not reach over four hundred, while that of the enemy, judging from the number of dead, must be, at least, 2,000. They were severely punished. We captured about 1-prisoners. The 16th corps were not engaged in the active fighting at all - only one the skirmish line.

About 5 p.m. yesterday, Baird's Div. On our left made quite an advance, which drew the fire of rebel batteries upon int, and the 7th Ind. Brig. around which, and the battery headquarters. Shot fell quite "thick and fast" for an hour. Ellis and myself were up on the hill, by Williams Battery (3d Ohio Bat'y), which Baird had just advanced from and whence we could over look the scene of conflict, see the rebel guns, where the shells and shot fell, and in the opposite direction the crown of Kennesaw, which is 1828 feet above the level of the ocean.

Bat'y "H" 1st Mo. Lt. Is also located on high ground, on our front, but not so elevated as that of the enemy, who over-look our position, the same as they did at Kennesaw, but they cannot see our camps.

July 30th - Saturday

The Rebs have been quite saucy to-day - throwing 64 pd. shell so thick around us, as to endanger our HdQrs. and the lives of everybody near them. All the shell come over the brow of the hill, explode in its rear and scatter their fragments every way. Two men of 81st Ohio were badly wounded by a shell, which struck a tree, behind which they sought refuge: 5 men in the 7th Ind. Bat'y were killed by one shell. Two exploded above us, scattering the fragments among our headquarters tents, one piece burying itself in the ground a rod behind the general's tent (he was out to the front at the time) another cutting a sapling close by. Another shell (the next one) passed over the Adj'ts tent, and burst about 8 rods off. Sending the fragments down into Genl, Dodge's HdQrs. To our left and rear- Killing Col. Tiedman's horse, and wounding two others.

Dodge thereupon moved ½ mile farther to the rear.

There was some talk of moving our HdQrs., but we remained in the same place all day, and nobody was hurt.


The above Extracts appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, April 1999, June 1999 and February 2000.