Conner-Blakeslee Letters

George H. Blakeslee, of Company G. 129th Illinois, and Wes Conner of Corput’s Cherokee Battery, exchanged letters in 1899, with some details about the assault. They also discussed the battery’s presence on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Margaret Hollingsworth, 3rd great grandniece of Conner, provided these copies, which had been transcribed by the Cave Springs School for the Deaf, where Conner taught.  Download them from ConnorBlakesleeLetters

The map he refers to was drawn the day after the battle.

Here are some relevant extracts:

Connor to Blakeslee, January 3, 1899

On the morning of Sunday the 15th of May, 1864, we were placed on the brow or brink of the hill­­—I did not know until you wrote that it was called “Red Knob”about—seventy-five yards in front of our infantry line, and instructed to throw up works for our guns, and this we proceeded to do, after having placed brush up in front so as to conceal our operations from the Federals. We understood, that as soon as our guns were ready, the Confederates would charge the position occupied by the Federals on the ridge across the Dalton road, about 800 or 1000 yards on our front. Between one and two o’clock the Federals brought out a line on said ridge as if preparing for an advance, and we pitched into them with our guns, and were giving them the best we had, when the first thing we knew the pickets came running past our guns with the announcement that the Yankees were right on us–some of them had passed our first gun before I left my gun—(I was gunner of #2, the guns being numbered from right to left) in fact two or three of them were parting the brush in front of my gun, and I shall never forget how they looked as they came through. Each of them seemed to be about ten feet tall and big in proportion. I left my gun double shotted with canister, as two friction primers in succession had failed to do their work. Our supporting infantry, Gen. John C. Brown’s Brigade of Tennesseans, were as much surprised as we were, and barely had time to get into the trenches in time to stop your advance. This will explain why our battery overshot you. Gen. Cumming’s Brigade was to the left of Brown’s and I think Reynold’s to the right. When I got inside of our Infantry line, I found a member of my detachment named ____________, who was afterward killed at Nashville, ___________ friend and as gallant a soul as ever drew breath, and we two hunted round, got us up a musket apiece and remained in the line till after dark. All the members of the battery had gone to the rear. We were told that an effort would be made to retake the guns, and I wanted to be present to let off that double charge of canister at you fellows as you ran. Every now and then I would take a peep out at my gun which I could plainly see from our line, and well do I remember that flag of which you speak of having been planted beside our guns. If I mistake not, it was along side of my gun. By the way, I shed my first blood here too. When I had secured my gun, an Enfield rifle, I crawled up to the line, and told some of Brown’s men that I wanted to get a pop at a Yank. One of them said, “there is a fellow out there sharp shooting. I know wher he is but can’t see him”; so we foolishly stood up, I to aim, and he just behind me to tell me when I had the proper direction—I blazed away, and had just brought my gun to the position of “carry arms”, when Mr. Yank fired, striking the stock of my gun just below the muzzle, filling my right jaw with splinters, and denting my gun so that it could not be used again. I thought the whole jaw had been shot away … such a close call in a place where I had no business to be, you may bet your life that I didn’t find it.

We lost twenty-seven men killed, wounded, and captured … only four of whom ever returned. Among the captured was Sergt. Sidney Blassingame, a tall, angular fellow, with fiery red hair that he always kept cut close and large ears that stuck out on the side of his head like those of a bat. He was known as “Big Red”, and I guess there were men in the Battery that never knew that he had another name. He was a splendid fellow and I seriously doubt he ever knew what the sensation of fear was.  One of the boys that was captured with him, told me this story, and I’ve wondered if it was true. Knowing the man as I did, I have been inclined to believe it. He refused to surrender, drew his sabre, and commenced using it, when a Yank tapped him on the side of the head with his musket, stunning him; another one started to thrust his bayonet into him, when one of your Lieutenants knocked up the gun, saying, “You mustn’t kill as brave a fellow as that”, and thus saved his life. About thirty of us got together at the recent reunion in Atlanta, but “Big Red”, who is still alive, was not among them, and I have never had the story from him.

As to what Battery the two guns to our left belonged, to which you refer, I can not say positively, but they must have been Rowan’s. I have always understood that Rowan’s Battery was the first to our left.  This was his proper place, as our Battery was on the right, Rowan’s the center, and Marshall’s on the left in the Battalian organization.

I have never read never read Johnston’s narrative, as the bitterness he entertained toward President Davis, made me think he could not write in an unbiased way, and for the same reason, I have never read Davis’s “Rise and Fall of the Confederacy”. Prejudiced men can not write in an unbiased way.

I wish I had known when I called with some friends on President Harrison, at the White House, that it was he that led the charging columns on our position, as we could have made it very entertaining to our party, consisting of two gentlemen from Canada, one from Illinois, one from Minnestota, and one from Washington.

I am sorry I did not see your map that was on exhibition in Chattanooga. … When some friend from the North who was not in the war, remarked, “Well Connor, I don’t understand how you fellows can feel so jolly over the matter”. The Yank said, “O, it was always that way when we could get the officers out of the way. We had many a game of poker down between the lines.

There was a dispute among the boys as to the distance from our Battery back to our lines, and it was funny how they varied. … In 1868 I was back on the ground, and found it to be about 75. … just behind our Battery there was a sharp angle that as I remember, amounted to almost a right angle, but how the lines ran, right and left, I don’t remember.

Blakeslee to Connor, January 8, 1899

At “P” on map as the left of my Company of which I had charge, was swinging into line, a man hatless and coatless jumped over the works and almost into my arms; of course he surrendered. He stated to me he was Captain ———, I can’t now tell who. His sword was gone; he stated that a shell had knocked it out of his hand. He wore officer’s belt and scabbard. Standing a moment thinking what to do, he says “What are you going to do with me, for God’s sake lets get out of this.” I was glad to get out of that scorcher that was being played on us from our right, and by your riflemen to the rear rear. Part of the way down the  hill turned him over to an enlisted man of a N.Y. regiment, when I hastened back to the crest of the hill, where I found some of our boys crouched behind (in front) of your works. Soon all but 27 of my regiment came back and got behind the dirt pile. “Twas then Sergt. Hess jumped upon one of those Napoleons and swung out the colors; a moment later a rifle ball struck him fair in the head and he fell in the folds of our flag, and his blood discolors it to today. Let me tell you something about this man. Then about 8 rods from your line, a rifle ball struck him in the wrist shattering his arm and cutting through the staff.  He never dropped the flag, but catching it in his left hand, went forward—Soon after his death the other Sergt. raised the flag and planted it near one of your guns until after dark, when we removed it. Hess was a match for your “Big “Red”.  I saw several instances similar to your statement of him.

Capt. J. H. Culver, Company A – 129th, was the only officer that stayed on the advanced position of 129th till he was relieved at 10 P.M. 27 of 129th was with him. There were about 300 of our men between your guns and your main line; most of these were of Harrison’s regiment, 70 Ind., and were in a measure protected by the ledge—that I have shown in map. Capt. Culver now lives at Emporia, Kansas.

Harrison stood by your left gun, resting one hand on it, talking with Capt. Sedgewick, 102 Ill., when a rifle shot passed through his whiskers just grazing his skin.

The 2nd Brigade was to keep to right of our Brigade and support us on the right flank; just after crossing the Dalton road the canister from your guns turned them from their course, and crossing our line of march to the rear, took to the bush on the northern slope of the hill, gaining which, they prostrated themselves on lines as shown. I located these positions from a few of their dead lying here.

Connor to Blakeslee, January 13, 1899

During this fight and for a week or two before, Corput’s Battery occupied a position near the proximity or extremity? of Lookout Pt. … It was a privilege of a lifetime. … We brought our guns off after dark, and as we came down the Mountain road, to our left we could hear the Infantry fire and see the flashes of their guns through the trees, that looked like myriads of fireflies. Passing through Ross’s Gap and around behind Mission Ridge, we were run up to the top of the Ridge the next afternoon, in a position almost over the tunnel on the Southern Railway, just in time to assist in the repulsing of Thomas’s charging columns. We had gained, as we thought, a big victory, and were in high glee, but about dusk, we could see the dashing to and fro of Couriers and Staff Officers, and pretty soon orders were issued to Capt. Corput to save the guns if possible, but if not, to save the men and horses at all hazard.  We got off without any loss.

Capt. Corput was not captured at Resacca, and the Captain of whom you speak must have been some Infantry Captain. It was Brown’s Brigade of Tennesseans …

Connor to Blakeslee, January 29, 1899

10 A.M. First section of Cherokee Artillery was moved to Lookout Battery.
12 O’Clock A.M opened upon the Yankees who were moving up to attack our forces on Lookout Creek.
2 O’Clock P.M Yankees have possession of our entrenchments around Lookout Point”.
4 o’clock P.M. Have orders to leave the Mountain with our Battery.

 

Copyright 2017-2019 Robert G. Miller. All rights reserved.

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