Civil War Soldiers’ Stories of Endurance and Courage

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Letters home and diaries are like living history. Their tales make up this story about the lives of soldiers and their very first battle, in which they assaulted a battery to try to break the Confederate line at Resaca, Georgia, on May 15, 1864. It was the first full engagement of the Atlanta Campaign, with 100,000 soldiers under General William T. Sherman surrounding General Joseph Johnston’s 50,000, who were dug in on a fortress of hills. They were under Daniel Butterfield’s division, in General Joseph Hooker’s 20th Corps, the “Star Corps.”  Leading the assaulting brigade was future President Benjamin Harrison’s 70th Indiana Regiment.

This book evolved from the author’s research into the experiences of his great-great-grandfather’s regiment. Joseph Peters was killed in the assault and the only information available was the letter sent to the widow. In following the trail of his company, the individual stories of the regiment, brigade, and corps became more and more interesting and those about the battle more and more confusing. No amount of summarizing or retelling can replace what those soldiers tell about their own experiences, as sort of a tapestry woven from the yarns they spun in their letters, diaries, and regimental histories. Combined with the versions of events from Official Records and newspaper accounts, a more honest and fascinating history of the battle emerged.

Part One follows the brigade led by future President Benjamin Harrison, from enlistment until the start of the Atlanta Campaign. The soldiers tell of the experiences which hardened them for the battle, starting with terrible marches trying to catch  up with Bragg’s army, yet missing the Battles of Perryville and Stones River, arriving just in time to witness the horrible results. Then, separated in lonely outposts, they endured harsh winters while guarding railroads and looking for guerillas in Kentucky. Many of them did not survive the hard marches in the heat or the diseases of the winter. All during that year and a half the generals who would determine their fate were showing their abilities and ambitions in other battles, as told in the book by stories not included in Official Records or most histories. After the Battle of Chattanooga, they  marched over the mountains from Nashville in harsh winter weather to prepare for the coming Campaign for Atlanta in drills, parades, and mock battles.  

Part Two finds the soldiers on their way to the Battle of Resaca. Because the story has been pieced together from many sources, new details of the battle differ radically from historical accounts in several respects. The author matched details of individual stories of what each writer saw and did, reconciling discrepancies where he could and exposing them where he could not — clearly revealing how the dedication of some and the failure of others affected the outcome of the battle.

The Fight for the Four-Gun Battery in the Battle of Resacaby George H. Blakeslee, 129th Illinois Infantry
This is how he remembered it.

“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, CSA

“They All Wore a star is a detailed account of the war from soldiers and officers in the first part of the Atlanta Campaign, focusing heavily on the desperate action to claim a Confederate battery in the Battle of Resaca.  The author brings the story from the bottom up and gives insight into the war that the common soldier experienced.”  — Lee White, Ranger, Lookout Mountain National Military Park

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