Flag of the Free, the Charles H. Dickinson Diary

This diary was referred to in “Uncommon Soldiers”, the Harvey Reid letters, and has turned up on Amazon in Kindle format from Scott A. Irons, a descendant.  https://www.amazon.com/Flag-Free-Civil-Selected-Speeches-ebook/dp/B01NAL0D3M/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1545176453&sr=1-9&keywords=flag+of+the+free

The Wisconsin Historical Society has the diary in collection named “Charles H. Dickinson journal”, with call number “Wis Mss 35S”. Contact them at whsarch-t@library.wisc.edu.

Mr. Dickinson was a Sergeant in the 22nd Wisconsin in Coburn’s brigade, the 2nd in Butterfield’s division.  Coburn followed Ward in the assault and was driven left.  Dickinson’s account is the first I have seen that mentions facing the barrier of sharpened felled trees that is seen in Walker’s painting.  He added having to work to the right to get around not just those but telegraph wires tied across trees and brush! Sharpshooters were busy on those struggling with the barriers.  Dickinson helped one wounded get back to where they started and where those they had to step over were still lying down.

Then, he has interesting accounts of Peach Tree Creek and the Battle of Averysboro [his spelling].  The latter matches Halstead’s story of Private Totton and adds the detail that a lucky Union cannon shot silenced a Rebel cannon on that end of the field by exploding their their caisson full of shells, killing all six horses and several soldiers, which caused quite a commotion in the Rebel line just as the 1st Brigade, then under Col. Case, was starting their attack. So the Halstead-Totton rout of the unsupported Rebel flank was a helped by yet another bit of fortune.

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



Fifty-fourth Virginia Letter

In a letter recently obtained from the Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York, Confederate private Christian M. Epperly, of the 54th Virginia, wrote his wife on May 22, describing their hard fighting since May 1 and their attempt to flank the Yankee left at 4 pm on the 15th: “Ther was about 1,19 [sic] kild and wounded which was dun in about 10 minuets time in making a charge on the yankees whair they wer three Colloms deep wee had to fall back. This number was lost out of about 5 Companeys wee had 5 men killed out of our Company and 8 or 10 wounded.”

This conforms to other reports.

They faced the Fifty-fifth Ohio, where Osborn, of Company A reported “The Fifty-fourth Virginia Regiment of infantry formed under that terrific fire and charged our line. It was, of course, captured to a man.” 

Stevenson, the Confederate division commander reported  “The Fifty-fourth Virginia, on the right, leaped the trenches and rushed bravely upon the enemy, but found that there was no connection with General Stewart’s left, and being thus unsupported were compelled to fall back before the rest of the brigade moved out. … the regiment in less than fifteen minutes lost above 100 officers and men

(Note, the number 1,19 had been interpreted by Gilder Lehrman as 1119 but it seems clear, especially from his writing that they had lost “2,50” since May 1, that he was using such punctuation of numbers.)

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



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.

Keys to Blakeslee’s Resaca Assault Map

From Blakeslee’s 1899 letter to Wes Conner of Corput’s Cherokee Battery, describing the map he drew the day after the battle

A. The  gun  on  which   Sergt.  Hess,   129th     Illinois   was standing when killed. Here our colors were planted.

B. Stump in cleared field behind which was a C.S. Sharpshooter,  who    was    killed    by    102nd        Illinois Sharpshooter,  George  Dheu,  [Dew] and  buried  by  myself and Tom Wyckoff.

C. The stump from which Dheu [Dew] fired the fatal shot.

D. The most advanced position gained by the 3 regiments that passed beyond your guns.

E. Location – Where Division formed in Column by regimental front for the advance.

F. Where 51 – 129th  Illinois rest  of Company G –  13.  [51 of the brigade, including 129th]

G. Projecting ledge, a protection to 70th Indiana while holding Battery.

H. The point on Gen. Howard’s line from which Walker’s great painting was made.

X. Deployment of 1st and 2nd  Brigades here.

X-1. Gen. W.T.  Ward severely wounded here, Harrison taking command.

[circle with slash]. Near this place there lay a dead Indian, who had two scalps of white men in his belt. The officer in charge ordered the Indian to be left without burial, it is said.

The Heavy Red lines show C.S.A. field works. The Heavy Blue lines Union regiments.

Thin  Red  lines  show  the  line  of  march  to  the  attack;  3rd

Brigade bore to the left and was lost sight of in the pines.

O. Where I was slightly wounded.

P. Captured a Johnny Captain here ; don’t know who he was.

K. 2nd  Brigade  scattered  by  terrible  fire  of  Confederates. 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 there.

This map is a copy on a small scale of the one I made for Maj. Gen. Dan Butterfield on the field May 16, 1864, and which is published in connection with Walker’s great painting .This map is contrary to prescribed rules of map making.

In it we are facing the direction as we moved to the attack, the top of the map being nearly S.E. At the angle held by Corput’s Battery the main line turns nearly due east to the river.

At the point marked Brown’s Brigade  the  Confederate dead were buried, burial parties reporting the number at 600; in 1895 the graves were yet plain to be seen, many of the slabs still at the head of graves. My painting is from sketch made May 16 – the landscape was viewed from just to the rear of the two guns at your left, which were run into position just as we crossed the Dalton road. From here I illustrate the advance of our line up that dread hill side. My foreground show Confederate working these guns, supported by infantry, taking it as cool as possible, under the hurricane of death that Wheelers’s Battery rained upon them. The dead lay thick around while I was there.

GH. Blakeslee

How the Assault was Disrupted

Greenman’s Account and Butterfield’s Response

In 1897, 33 years after the event, Sergeant Nathan W. Greenman, of Company H, 20th Connecticut, Coburn’s brigade, sent General Butterfield, their division commander, an account of the fight for the battery as Greenman witnessed it.  The exchange is in a file in the William Pendleton Palmer Collection in the Cleveland History Center Archives (formerly Case Western Reserves Archives).

Among other notes, Greenman states that as Coburn’s brigade followed Ward’s brigade over the hill, out of the ravine in which they were waiting, they passed through a Second Division brigade, which was lying down. This is the first time someone mentioned passing over what they identified as Geary’s Division. Ward particularly mentioned in his report having passed over soldiers lying down but did not know which unit. Probably Greenman identified them simply by their white stars. Ward passed over them first, then came Coburn. But Coburn himself and others describe Ireland’s brigade, Geary’s 3rd, as passing through his own, from right rear moving by the left flank. Confusion resulted, and so goes the story: Ireland’s next to last regiment, the 149th New York, says they were fired on from behind by the 19th Michigan, which was in Coburn’s front row, on the left. But the 19th Michigan says they were fired on from behind by soldiers they had just passed over, an act causing more casualties than in the rest of the battle. Both were going downhill, so those lying down, then were at least to the crest. This is much to rely on as given, but such is what we have and if so, who did the firing?  From the sequence of events, as cobbled from reports, the 149th and Cobham’s 111th Pennsylvania were the last regiments in Ireland’s column. After passing through Coburn, Ireland told them all to stop and lay down. Geary objected. He and Hooker sent the two rear regiments ahead, directing the 149th right and the 111th left. So then the 149th and part of the 19th went ahead, catching up with Ward.  Coburn was drifting left around Ward and the 111th went even further left, through the trees in the ravine, far enough to avoid fire, taking fewer casualties than everyone else and arriving at the fort later. How does one interpret and simplify this?  Greenman’s revelation makes it clear Ireland had gotten into position before Ward and Coburn arrived and was in front—well, partly, maybe: Ireland was in a column of six lines, and it is clear that he moved leftward through Coburn at a diagonal.  What is not clear is whose soldiers fired on the the 19th Michigan, Fourth Corps or Ireland?

One can speculate about what caused Ireland to stop his brigade to let Coburn go on.  By then, Ireland’s front two lines were too far to be stopped and got clobbered by Rebel fire. His other regiments simply got out of the way and were out of the fight.

Butterfield replied to Greenman that his account was essentially correct. But he likely was completely unaware of the above interpretation.  We will not know the all the details and likely no one at the time did either.

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

I am very anxious [to] secure a line whose left rests on the Connesauga.

Sherman’s objective for May 15 is stated in his 5 am orders for the day.  His left was not anchored and the Confederates held a line that rested on the railroad, with just their cavalry  and union cavalry between the railroad and the river, watching each other.  Sherman’s order, with the  main effort on his right being to get Dodge’s forces across the river to press from the south, is to further confine Johnston with his back to the rivers.  Hooker was to press down the road from the north and “will not assault fortified positions unless assured of success.” Between left and right, the Union was  to make a strong demonstration and to use artillery to keep Johnston from moving forces to support either end. Was that all, to strengthen his hold?

Sherman’s note to Thomas does not say Hooker had convinced him that Hooker should make a direct assault on the hill.  He was only to attack*, with Howard, “directly south down upon Resaca.”

Thomas’s 11 am note informs Sherman of a commanding position which Hooker “is now forming Butterfield’s division to assault.”

What else had Sherman intended, had he simply strengthened his hold?  His earlier plan still remains:  to force Johnston to the hills and disperse his army.  By getting Sweeney and Dodge across at Lay’s Ferry, he could have taken the railroad, Johnston’s lifeline, and Sherman’s direct route to Atlanta.

Could he also have kept Johnston bottled up?

Given the result, should Thomas be blamed–for allowing Hooker to assault?

* To attack is to try to hold in place or drive back or disperse.  To assault is to fix bayonets and overcome.  If you see bayonets, expect an assault. Sherman avoided assaults. Here is one quote from the book:  Fleharty, 102nd Ward 1B 3D 20C: There was evidently some warm work to be done. At first the real design of the movement was known only to a few, but when the column was formed, the men were ordered to fix bayonets, and as the ominous click ran along the line the nature of the task before us became apparent. Thought was busy then, and all faces seemed a shade paler.

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

Brown, of the 27th Indiana

Since Publication, more material has come to light which could have been included.  One is from a little book Jule Medders described. It is long out of print but a reprint is available from Amazon (see Brown in the bibliography).  Since the book is long in public domain, it would be nice to have it available in archive.org.  I have compiled the material as addenda, which can be downloaded.  No future edition is planned, but keeping this up now keeps ahead of the game, just in case, and allows readers to see how new material fits.


They All Wore a Star – Addenda

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