Things As I Saw Them: The Battle of Resaca
Published in the Poughkeepsie Daily Press, June 21, 1864, and in the Poughkeepsie Telegraph, June 25, 1864.
The record of my last letter closed on the night of May 14, and like most of the stories that are “to be continued,” left off just in the most interesting part. You will recollect that we were upon the extreme left of a long line of battle, some twelve or fifteen miles in length, where we had repulsed a charge made by the revels to capture one of our batteries. In this the 150th were not engaged, but held as a reserve, just back on a hill, in case they should be needed.
That night we encamped on the scene of action, and during the night there occurred several amusing mistakes on the part of straggling rebels. One came into our lines inquiring for the 17th Alabama? “Yes,” said three or four men, stepping up and seizing both him and his gun,“we can tell you just where you are. You are in the wrong pew. This is the 2d Massachusetts.”
“Oh! come boys, none of your fooling,” says reb. “I want to get by roll call.” A light from a neighboring fire just then blazed up revealing the blue uniforms around him. He gave one wild look as though he would break away, then giving vent to a long whistle, gave himself up muttering “the wrong pew sure enough.” There were several such incidents during the night
The next morning, unlike the past six or eight, there was no rattle of musketry to be heard – no roar of artillery – no moving of infantry; all was as quiet and serene as a Sabbath morning should be. About 9 A.M. it began to be evident that the different corps commanders were in consultation and had selected a little grove just by our camp for the place of consultation. I forget now, how many generals we saw there, but with their several staffs and body guards there was several acres of them; perhaps acres would be a better way to judge of them. First, and I believe the greatest general of all, was Joe Hooker. Then came two riding side by side with but two arms and two legs between them, General Sickles with but one leg, and General Howard with but one arm, and following came Generals Thomas, Schofield, McPherson, Butterfield, Logan and Sherman. – These are all the major generals I remember now, but there were a host more of brigadier generals, in fact, “too numerous to mention.” I am sorry to say that after looking fairly into the face of each of them, I am obliged to say that but two of them come up to my idea of an active, determined military general. I know and daily realize that I am not much of a military man, but always form my idea of men as they pass before me.
General Joe Hooker, the commander of the 20th corps (ours) and Brig. Gen. Geary, the commander of the 2d division of this, the 20th corps. And here allow me to remark, without meaning any offence to any of the parties mentioned, that the first sight of General Hooker forcibly reminded of Hon. Wm. Kelly, and General Grant reminding me as forcibly of Sheriff Swift. The pictures I have seen of them in the illustrated papers resemble them about as much as any other general and no more. Well, the consultation broke up about 11 a.m., and the different generals and their followers whirled away, leaving us again “alone in our glory.” I got into the shade of an accommodating persimmon tree, fell asleep, and about 1 p.m. awoke to see the last of the 150th piling over a hill about eighty rods away. I hastened after, saw them enter a dense wood and still hasten on. I had got but a little way into the wood when the ball opened and you would have thought there was a hail storm going on, to have heard the bullets rattling about in the leaves and branches of the trees. The first division to which the 150th regiment belongs, had filed off to the left after entering the woods and I had followed up in the wake of the third division. I soon discovered my mistake and lost no time in getting once more on the trail of the 150th, finding them about two miles to the left. Our brigade being the last brigade on the left wing of the army, and our regiment being on the extreme left of our brigade. – Those who understand the importance of a flank movement, will readily understand that this was not a position without its danger, and not without its honor also, to those who are fighting for that article. It did not of right belong to our regiment, but to the oldest regiment in the brigade – but it showed pretty plainly the confidence our brigade and division commanders had in Colonel Ketcham and his regiment. Our line of battle was so arranged that the 150th took possession of a small eminence, the right wing of it fronting on a piece of woods and the left wing fronting on an open field.
After looking the position over carefully, Colonel Ketcham ordered his regiment to go to building breastworks, and we fell to with a will, pausing not until every rail, log, hog trough, bee hive, etc. (we were right in front of a large dwelling) was used, and we had a very respectable shelter behind which to shield us from the storm, which was so soon to burst upon us. Other regiments on our right took the hint from us and also fell to build breastworks, but most of them too tardily, for the storm burst upon them before they were completed.
We had but nicely completed our breastworks when a rattling fire in the woods in our front told us that their advance had met our skirmishers and soon out of the woods came the skirmishers literally running for their lives. It reminded me very much of the times when I had seen a lot of boys steal up and thrust a stick into a hornet’s nest, and then run with all their might. I did not know whether it was best to laugh or tremble. They were certainly in no enviable position, for the rebels were firing at them from the rear, and besides they were in imminent danger of being shot by our own men, as the rebels were pushing right on after them, emerging from the woods very close to the last of them. But Colonel Ketcham very wisely gave the order for the men to reserve their fire. Oh! it was a grand sight to see them pour out of the woods, form in double column and advance at a quickstep towards our unsupported left. When they first emerged from the woods they were not more than a hundred and fifty yards distant and they were allowed to leave nearly half that distance behind them before the order came to “Fire,” and as one report, five hundred muskets roared and five hundred bullets went screaming into the ranks of our enemies. They first faltered, fell back a few steps, then rallied and poured at us an unmerciful fire from guns that outnumbered us four or five to one. Then came our Colonel’s order, “load and fire at will,” and they did it with a vengeance.
Be it known that I am not one of those fortunate ones who “load and fire” or who at such times command men who do “load and fire,” but it was worth the sufferings and privations of our three years service, to have seen that fight of three quarters of an hour, escape unharmed, and at the same time to have taken a gun and looking deliberately over its sights, single out your man and fire it, and then repeat. Just think of it. The privilege of shooting your enemy and no law to trouble you after!
Was I frightened? Most assuredly I was and would have run just as fast as my legs would have carried me, had it not been for pride. Pride would not let me, for there was the eyes of all the boys in the regiment to see me if I did run, and what would they say to me afterward? Judging by myself, (a conceited judgment it is said) I should say that it was pride which made a man face a storm of bullets oftener than courage. I frankly own that it was so in my case, but then, I was never noted for courage. The fact is, I had no particular business up at the front, my duties being further in the rear, but was caught in the front by accident, mingled with curiosity, and pride and curiosity led me to remain. But it is not an enviable position, and when they get me into another such an one, unless by accident, it will be after Atlanta is taken.
Well the three fourths of an hour before spoken of passed away, and with it the enemy from before us, and “lucky 150th,” was the shout from every lip, for we had none killed, and but seven wounded. And yet how unlucky, for of this number was our beloved adjutant, S.V.R. Cruger, severely if not fatally wounded, he having been shot in the upper part of the left lung. I saw him as he reeled out, spitting great mouthfuls of bright arterial blood, caught him in my arms and supported him to a position where his wound could be temporarily dressed, started him on the ambulances on a stretcher, with the bullets dropping around us all the time like hail, and then turned my attention to the others as they came out. I give you a list of their names but suppose that it has already been published in your paper, as I have been too busy since the fight to write as I would have liked. Besides Adjutant Cruger, the next came Corp. George Stage, Co. E., struck just below the left eye with a ball that must have been nearly spent, as otherwise it would have passed through his head. As it was it entered about an inch, compromising life somewhat and his sight considerably. Benj. Watts, Co. E., struck with a bullet in the back of the neck, the ball being cut out below the shoulder blade. The wound is serious but probably not compromising life. Tolson Richardson, Co. B., struck in the shoulder breaking the bone badly, making a very serious wound. Thos. Wright, Co. G., escaped with a slight wound on the top of his head. – Benj. Harp, Co. G., also had a very slight wound on the side of his head. Americus Mosher, Co. K., was slightly wounded in the breast. – There were a number of hair-breadth escapes, several with holes through their clothes, hats, etc. Well, my letter is getting as long as my time will permit. That night, Sunday, May 15, they commenced skedaddling, and the next morning we were after them pell-mell. They have fought us inch by inch or mile by mile to this place. We have laid here since Thursday night, May 19, but start on again in the morning with the understanding that we are to have another real fight with them at Altoona mountains, about ten miles from here. I do not intend these letters to be “regular correspondence” for all such has been ordered from this army by General Sherman, but just a little sketch of “things as I saw them,” that I relate to my friends through the medium of THE TELEGRAPH. Expecting to start at 4 a.m. to-morrow morning, it now being almost too dark to write, I close with, yours truly,
FRED FULTON, 150th N.Y.S.V.
CASSVILLE, May 22, 1864.
The preceding letter is from Assistant Surgeon Stephen G. Cook of the 150th New York Volunteers, who used the pen name “Fred Fulton” in his several published letters. This one describes the Battle of Resaca in May, 1864.
The Battle of Resaca
Things As I Saw Them: The Battle of Resaca
(on the website of The Bivouac)
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