THEY ALL WORE A STAR
In the Fight for the Four-Gun Battery in the
Battle of Resaca, Georgia, May 15, 1864
by Robert G. Miller
An expanded version with more narrative for guidance and explananation is getting finishing touches and the 2018 version will be off the market until version II is published. Watch this site for release notes.
In their own words, the story of the 129th Illinois Infantry and comrades, from enlistment through their first battle, with Benjamin Harrison and Hooker’s 20th Corps, compiled from letters, diaries, official records, newspapers, and regimental histories. A tapestry from the yarns they spun about lives of soldiers and ambitions of generals, converging in a long afternoon on a hillside in Georgia.
Greed for glory, combined with raw ambition and poor planning, ruined William T. Sherman’s plan at Resaca. That is the conclusion to be reached in They All Wore a Star. The author did not start the book to point fingers or even to say the battle had gone awry. But plenty of testimony from multiple witnesses leaves it plainly before the reader to make that conclusion. Miller was simply researching the story of the battle in which his great, great grandfather died and compiling the stories soldiers told about it. Some of the descriptions and claims were in great conflict. Soldiers continued to argue among themselves for decades, though conventional histories only described the most basic action. Miller tried to reconcile the claims by ferreting out details from every source available. He tried to avoid placing blame, let alone calling the fight a failure and saying someone’s malfeasance caused it. But in the end he included enough unavoidable testimony, so carefully pieced together as to make a prosecutor’s case in a Court of Inquiry, which would have been warranted had there not been the escaped enemy to pursue to Atlanta.
But that is one story. It is combined with another, the story of Miller’s ancestor’s regiment and brigade as they endured long marches chasing Rebels through Tennessee and fighting off guerillas who tried to disrupt railroad in Kentucky, the supply line for the army that was trying to rid those states of Confederate armies. They saw no battles except for the aftermaths. Then, as the Atlanta Campaign gets underway we follow them to their first battle, in the lead in the very assault General Joe Hooker planned in his quest to reclaim status he lost at Chancellorsville and the fight General Geary of Pennsylvania intended to give him glory for capturing four cannon. In the division under General Daniel Butterfield, in his first command, Colonel Benjamin Harrison and his regiment spearheaded the assault. Harrison’s brigade did their job, at great loss. Other brigades did their jobs too, despite the mishaps and avoidable confusion that was caused by Geary. That’s why they all earned the stars they wore, patriots as they were. The commander of that Rebel battery wrote they came like ducks into water and all wore a star, the symbol of Hooker’s 20th Corps.
As if to settle the argument, casualty counts are displayed, standing in stark testimony to show the stars who paid the price for the cannon, and as silent witness to the sacrifices of Butterfield’s division, regardless of Geary’s claims.
This is a book to be read and comprehended slowly, for it is as quotes from many sources, all telling their part, arranged chronologically, like a play, with less by way of narrative and explanation by the author, and more for the readers to discover and digest on their own, which is its own reward. For it is a mystery of real history.
“We had to fight Hooker’s command here or else the battery never would have been taken … They all wore a star.” – Max Van Den Corput
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, appropriately, has this watercolor by George Hopkins Blakeslee, which I’ve enhanced to bring out the colors and sharpen the edges. Harrison’s 70th Indiana as shown is already in the fort at the right side, which is correct. The positions of the others do not match Blakeslee’s map. Being of the 129th Illinois, the artist shows it prominently, barely lagging Harrison’s regiment. But accounts have the 102nd Illinois, shown far left but not labelled, going in with Harrison, and the 79th Ohio going far left instead of a last. But then, to say the lead companies were well mixed may be consistent with some accounts. Since the 129th Illinois started next to last and went furthest to the enemy’s line behind the fort, we might conclude they took advantage of the defenders being fairly occupied and leapfrogged toward the real objective–to drive the enemy out of it’s defenses.