Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]



his plan, to checkmate this movement, resolved to anticipate it, and instead of strengthening his right wing, directed McCook simply to build large camp fires beyond its extremity, in order to give the impression to the enemy that a fresh division had been sent there. Whether this ruse was understood or not, it produced no change in the rebel plan.

This was the position of the two armies on the night of the 30th of December. It had rained all day, and the shivering soldiers lay on the cold ground, to snatch such rest as they could get, before commencing the terrible work of the morning

The right wing was composed of three divisions, of which Johnson held the extreme right, Davis the center one, and Sheridan the last, which joined the center of the army. With the first streak of dawn, the roll of the drum and bugle blast swelled and echoed from hill to hill along the mighty line, bright with standards and glittering bayonets that swayed and shook for three miles in the morning light, and soon, General Van Cleve's division, which was to cross over on our left, and overwhelm Breckenridge, was in motion. Wood was to follow by another ford, and lapping on to his right, and closing with him as he advanced, storm the heights held by the rebel Commander.

In the meantime, Rosecrans had High Mass celebrated in his tent, and thus having committed himself and his army to the God of battles, he stepped forth into the open air. It was a cold, wintry morning, and the officers, with their overcoats on, gathered around the fires that had been kindled in the field. It was just before sunrise, and Rosecrans was listening anxiously to hear the artillery along the heights held by Breckenridge, when there suddenly came a strange, confused sound from the extreme right, like the fearful sweep of a distant hurricane rapidly approaching. At intervals, arose the dull

, heavy roar of cannon. Nearer and nearer the noise came.



until distinct and plain the rattle of musketry was heard, sounding in the distance like the crackling of fames amid dry branches. The officers of the staff grew serious and alarmed, but Rosecrans only looked up, and went on talking. It was all going on as he expected. McCook was evidently stubbornly contesting the field, according to his instructions. Alas, McCook was not fighting, but retreating *

Bragg's order was, that at daybreak the whole line, beginning at the extreme left, with Hardee's corps, and followed by Polk's, should swing forward on our extreme right, and bear it back, crumbling it in the retreat, till our army should stand with its rear to the river. Its communications with Nashville would thus be cut off, and its destruction sure. In double lines they came on, swift and terrible as in-rolling billows. The rebel General McCown first struck Johnson, on our extreme right, who was wholly unprepared for the sudden onset, and crushed him with a single blow-sweeping over his batteries with wild hurrahs. Cleburne followed him, and striking Davis' division, hurled it also back over the field. Like a swift succeeding wave, Withers came next, and fell with the same desperation on the last division of the right wing, which was Sheridan's.

If this had given way, like the other two, no power on earth could have saved Rosecrans. His splendid army was trembling in the balance, but Sheridan, though left solitary and alone of all that richt wing, stood fast. The wave that burst along that astonisied line, dissolviag it like frost work, here met a rock, on, fell back in broken surges. There was no surprise here in Davis' division -every man was in his place, an; <very gunner at his piece, long before the shock came. Kight in the face of one battery, vomiting forth death, and through a cross-fire of twc more, the hostile column closed in mass, and, several regiments deep, came steadily on. Through

• W. B. F.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

and through it, shot and shell tore with awful havoc, but the great ragged gaps closed swiftly up, and still this mass of living valor kept rolling on, until within pistol shot of Sill's brigade, when a sheet of fire burst in their very faces. Nobly did they attempt to bear up against it, but the head of each formation crumbled away ere it was completed, and at length the whole broke and filed. Sill then shouted the charge; and away went the brigade, with a thundering cheer, chasing the enemy to cover, but its gallant leader fell, mortally, wounded.

But unless Sheridan could be dislodged, the overthrow of Johnson and Davis would be of no avail, and so the enemy, rallying again with fresh forces, came on more determined than ever.

At the same time, the victorious columns that had crushed two of our divisions to fragments, now bore down on Sheridan's flank, and his overthrow by the double onslaught seemed certain. But instead of retreating, he moved up to Negley, and locking on to the center, faced his troops both south and west, thus presenting two slender fronts to the enemy. At the angle he placed most of his guns, and in this position awaited the onset of the overwhelming numbers. As they came on, those batteries ploughed long lanes through the dense masses, but they still advanced-pushing their artillery forward, until the guns played on each other, within close rifle shot. The slaughter now was horrible. Three times did the devermined enemy advanca, and as often was como pelled to fall back. Said Polk, afterwards, of these awful charges, and their deadly effect on his troops: “The horse of

every officer on the field and staff of Vaughn's brigade, except one, and the horses of all the field and staff of every regiment, except two, were killed. The brigade lost onethird of its force.”

But Sheridan's ammunition now gave out, and no more could be got, for the train had been captured in the wild

[ocr errors]



rout of the rest of the wing. Besides, the enemy was now all around him, in front, flank and rear, so that at last he also was compelled to retire, leaving nine guns, which he could not get through the dense cedar thickets, in the hands of the rebels. Still, not in panic or disorder did his brave, shattered division abandon the field-but, with even ranks, and colors flying, sullenly, savagely, fall back till it found ammunition.

The right wing was at last all gone, and the onset that had borne it backward now fell with unbroken fury on the center. But the heroic resistance of Sheridan had gained what was of vital importance-time. As he was retreating, thus uncovering the center, Rosecrans arrived on the field. He had staid at head-quarters after the first crowd of fugi. tives arrived from the battle-field with their story of defeatnot believing that any real disaster had occurred. But as the throng kept increasing, and the din swelled louder and louder, he strode backward and forward before his tent, with a disturbed, anxious look. At length, a staff officer from McCook dashed up to him, asking for help. “Tell General McCook," he shouted back, “to contest every inch #ground," and still continuen bio, valk. Then came the

are non sia maled, Willich killed or captured, and Kirk wounded. “Never mind; we must win the battle," was the stern repiy. Another aid now dashed up on a gallop, asking that Rousseau be held in readiness. Rousseau commanded the reserves. This startled Rosecrans. What! reserves before the battle was fairly begun? At last, the frightful truth must be squarely met, crushing as it was, that the right wing was gone, and the center fighting a hopeless battle. “Tell General McCook I will help him!” he exclaimed, and almost the next instant, Rousseau's brave battalions were moving on the double-quick across the field. arother order flew to Van Cleve. to double-quick a brigade

« PreviousContinue »