Very Interesting Letter From Comrade Edson Woodman, Of Paw Paw, Mich.
In January, 1908, accompanied by Mrs. Woodman, I revisited some of the places once familiar to the old 13th Michigan Infantry, and made historic by deeds of daring, by desperate battles, weary marches and suffering, and an outpouring of young lives upon the altar of the country.
An absence of over forty-three years had somewhat dimmed my recollection and made some things seem so far away that they became, for the time, but a memory. And I will confess to a swelling of my heart and a tightening of my throat, as they came back to me.
We reached Chattanooga in the evening and put up at the Reed House. A large, elegant hotel, which stands where the old Clutch-field House used to be, and early the next morning began looking for old landmarks. The first one was grand Old Lookout Mountain, which in general outline is just as it was when our boys swarmed up its rugged and rocky sides.
Electric cars run by the foot of the Mountain, where we takethe cable road to the top. There are two cars on this line, one at each end of a cable that passes around a drum run by steam, at the top, so that when one car goes up the other comes down.
This road is 4,750 feet long and has a grade of 67 per cent on a part of it, and makes the ascent easily and quickly. A museum at the terminus is filled with old relics of much interest, and picture galleries and souvenir stands are in evidence.
A portion of the point is held as a reservation, by the Government, and here are some fine monuments. The one erected in memory of the New York troops is said to have cost $125,000.00. There are also more monuments down the side of the mountain near where the old Craven House used to stand, and which, rebuilt, is there still.
There is also an electric road which runs around the top of the Mountain to the places of interest there.
I found where our headquarters used to be, though the buildings are mostly gone, and trees are growing on our old “parade grounds.”
The cave and springs where we used to bathe, with the little stream coming down from overhead, are the same, and the spring nearly in front of headquarters that the boys dug out and curbed with a pork barrel is there, though it has a stone curbing now. And how good these waters seemed to me, as warm and weary I drank again of them, after so many years.
There are some large hotels on the Mountain as well as many private summer homes, and the timber and roads are much changed.
An electric road runs out to Chickamauga Village and Park, where we took a carriage and spent the’ day in riding over the old battle fields.
Scores of grand and imposing monuments are scattered thickly over the fields and through the woods, marking the places where various regiments did their hardest fighting. Many of the little old log houses still remain and are cared for by the Government. Cannon are also placed at many places, and the grounds are kept in order and patrolled by cavalry stationed at the fort near the village.
We found the monument to the 13th Mich. Infantry. In the corner of “Kelly’s Field,” near “Bloody Pond,” Lee and Gordon’s Mill, is still doing business and though probably it has been re-paired somewhat looks the same as it did.
Crawfish Springs are the same, though a little village is there now, and some industry is apparent.
Beautiful roads wind around Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge and monuments everywhere. The Confederates have them there to mark their places of battle and there are several observation towers of steel, from which extended views may be had, though I did not climb them to see.
The trees in Chickamauga Park are torn and marked by shot and shell; the grounds are cleared of bushes and rubbish and no one is allowed to cut or mark anything. But lonesome and dreary indeed are the winds that sigh and moan through the branches seeming to whisper to us of the Thirty-Three Thousand whose young lives went out in that desperate struggle so long ago.
The National Cemetery adjoining Chattanooga is indeed a beautiful place containing seventy-five acres and in it are buried 13,000 of our boys. I found the graves of some of our regiment and with a feeling of profound sadness placed sprigs of pine or holly upon their humble resting places.
In one corner of the cemetery is located a monument to the leader and seven men, who were a part of what is known as the “Andrews Rail Road Raid into Georgia,” and who were captured and hung at Atlanta, June 18th, 1862. They are buried in a half circle in front of the monument with a stone at the head of each, upon which is their names.
The old engine, “The General,” which they and their comrades captured at Big Shanty, and ran back as far as Ringgold hoping to burn and destroy some confederate stores and bridges, stands in the depot just across the street in front of the Reed House in Chattanooga, and a bronze engine, an exact duplicate of this though only about four feet long, is on the top of their monument, in the cemetery.
We went by train back to Stevenson, Ala. Here we found the place where we camped, and our old headquarters, back of which
Comrade Edick and myself had our little “Pup Tent” and where in a soft bed of red clay mud we slept as only two tired and innocent boys of 17 could sleep.
The old clay fort is there but the trees have grown up around it till one can hardly see it.
The big spring over at the foot of the Mountain where we used to get water and from which a long string of colored people used to carry water to the village every morning, is there still, and seated on the stone curbing, we drank of its waters which clear and cold flow from under the Mountain, as they did when you and I were young.
Stevenson is much the same little old town that we knew it. Pigs now roam the streets, and are fed and sleep any place that is convenient, which they certainly did not do, when we were around there in war time.
In conversation with an old Confederate Veteran whom we met here, he asked “what State we came from,” and I had to acknowledge that I was from Michigan. “Well,” said he, “I want to tell you that the troops from Iowa and Michigan were the worst thieves in the whole northern army!” I fear he was prejudiced, and changed the subject.
After a week spent in and around Chattanooga, Stevenson, Bridgeport, Wauhatchie, and on Sand Mountain, we continued our journey southward, making a short stop at Rome, Ga., which has grown greatly in the past 45 years.
On the flats by the river where we camped, and were flooded out one night, stands a large cotton mill. I identified the river bank where we slid down in the red clay mud, also the railroad, which runs to Kingston, 19 miles to the east, and over which we marched to that place.
We were camped at Kingston on election day in 1864, when Lincoln was elected the second time. And here we received and sent our last mail, and cutting loose from our base of supplies, started on the march “Through Georgia.”
Here we lost our lion-hearted lieutenant, Julius Lillie. A giant in size and strength, he went out with a foraging party, and is sup-posed to have been killed with the rest of his little command.
That joyous and patriotic song, “Marching Through Georgia,” does not tell us of the 37,000 men lost by. Sherman between Chattanooga and Savannah, nor of their suffering, as wounded, sick, foot-sore and worn by hard marching and scanty food, we struggled on through swamps and sand, as best we could, many to finally die by the way-side, or be killed by the guerillas when with strength and grit entirely gone, they could no longer “keep up.”
We made no stop at Atlanta but could see that it was a big and bustling city, with little of the dilapidated condition in which we left it.
Macon is another lively place. Here we changed roads and went 60 miles southwest to Andersonville, Ga., to visit the old prison pen where in the 14 months of its use were confined 52,345 of our boys, and in the cemetery, one-half mile from the prison grounds. are buried 13,721 of them who were starved to death, and it is re-corded there that many hundreds or perhaps thousands more were buried in and around the grounds, whose bones were never recovered.
“Providence Spring” has a stone pavilion over it, erected by the N. W. R. C.-I think-marking it permanently. The prison grounds as well as the cemetery are nicely cared for. The superintendents being old Union Veterans and they have pleasant homes and offices and are glad to see visitors and show them the places most interesting.
The old “stockades” are gone, though depressions in the ground and lines of white painted posts mark the places where they stood, and we were shown a log or two in the creek that were said to have been a part of the old walls.
Brick remain where the old “Cook House” used to stand. There is yet one of the holes the boys used to dig from which a tunnel was run outside of the stockade, through which some of the prisoners wormed their way to freedom. Few, however, ever succeeded in getting very far, their weakened condition and bare feet making them easy to run down with dogs that were kept for these very occasions.
Mistaken zeal on the part of the W. R. C. has smoothed and seeded all of the north end of the prison grounds, though the south part looked as though potatoes or pea nuts had been raised there that season.
The brush should have been kept down but aside from that the grounds should have been left exactly as they were when the last of our boys had been removed. Then when any of them went back they could have identified places, which are now entirely obliterated.
We had been told at the depot at Chattanooga “That Andersonville was not on the map, that while some trains stopped there, there was no village or hotel or depot, that the place was a blot on the South,” “That hanging had been much too good for Wirtz, that he should have been drawn and quartered.”
Yet we found a quiet little village with postoffice; a few stores, a cotton gin, good, clean depot with a pleasant lady agent, and a neat, well conducted hotel, where we were excellently fed and cared for at a moderate price by the lady in charge, and except for the thousands of small headstones in the prison cemetery, there is but little to depict the terrible scenes of anguish and inhumanity that this vicinity has witnessed.
At Savannah, Ga., where you will remember we stayed a few weeks in the winter of 1864 and ’65, I was able to identify many things. Sherman’s headquarters house, the old market, the little parks and old monuments in the city, the old wharf and ware-houses with the roadways down to them, are still just the same. The old canal is there, but with just a little water in it now.
I found the place where we camped just across it, after being relieved from the breast works, and cut a cane there as a souvenir.
Some of the old embankments that we built at the edge of the city are still there, especially those high ones near the arched rail-road bridge, though there are three of those bridges there now, two other railroads having come into the city close by the old one.
The woods and fields are full of little rifle pits and those little ditches we used to dig hurriedly some times, as we seemed to feel safer when behind even a small embankment, you may remember.
We ran across a gang of men cutting brush and binding it in bundles just as we did when we were preparing to build a road over which to charge the rebels out of the city. But these bundles were “to be used about the harbor instead of making a bridge to almost certain death as were ours.
We went out to Tunderbolt Bay, where we used to go and get oysters when the tide was out. They were those bunch oysters, you remember. And I again enjoyed eating them fresh from the water, but with other surroundings than those of the “long ago.”
There are now some fine roads around Savannah, and I learned that they were built by “The Chain Gang.” They have no state’s prison in Georgia, and lease out what they can of their convicts, and work the rest upon the highways, etc., which certainly seemed a very common sense way of caring for their criminals and worthy of imitation.
We saw “The Clansman” played at the largest opera house in the city, and were much interested in the way the audience expressed their feelings when points satisfactory to themselves were brought out. We also wondered what they would say, had they known that an old Northern Soldier was quietly sitting in their midst and feeling much as they were.
A few hours by rail took us on to Columbia, S. C., going up the river and crossing into the latter state near Sisters Ferry. And I recalled how we were swamped in the mud there 43 years ago. Do you remember the miles of corduroy we builded on both sides of the river, and the time we were given but one day’s rations to last five days, as a punishment, because some teamsters had thrown out some boxes of hard tack, when stalled in the mud, and it was sup-posed that “Our Regiment” had gotten them. How we yelled “Hard Tack” at our brigade commander every time we saw him till a “general order” with threats of terrible punishment cooled our ardor. Probably some will still remember how this same officer, “General Buell,” made monkeys of a lot of us at the first little town on the South Carolina side, by making us carry back some boards we had torn from an old building to keep us out of the mud at night and then made us go and get exactly one board each and carry to our camp again.
He was a brave fighter, but worked us unnecessarily, marched us without mercy, and sometimes drove us into the water without reason. I saw his black horse shot from under him when but a few feet from me, and he certainly could use violent language.
We had planned to go from Columbia to Fayetteville, N. C., and then on to Bentonville, but just at this time two officers at Fayetteville had been shot by a “colored man” whom they were trying to arrest, and it was presumed that there would be a lynching, with which he had no desire to participate. And decided to come on to Asheville and Knoxville, from which place we came back to our dear old Michigan.