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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Casualties in the Battle of Rivers Bridge -- The Soldiers' Accounts

The Horrid Results of Every Battle
Diary of Lt. Col. Oscar L. Jackson, 63rd Ohio Infantry, from
The Colonel's Diary (Sharon, Penn.: N.p., 1922), pp. 177-178:

February 3rd. . . .
9:00 P.M. Again at the hospital I see the horrid results of every battle. Men mutilated in every shape conceivable, groaning, begging for assistance and gasping in death. Many of our wounded will have to lie all night in that horrid swamp, it being impossible to find them and carry them out on the narrow foot bridge that has been made. Many have had their heads propped up out of the water where they lay to keep them from drowning.

Many censure General Mower, commanding our division (the 1st Division, 17th A.C.) for shoving his men against the enemy in such a place, even after he knew the crossing had been made by the other divisions, which he did know, as I was present when a staff officer reported it. He ordered Lieutenant Harrison with a company of the 63rd Ohio to charge along the causeway and with an oath told him not to stop until he got into the enemy's fort. He [Harrison] started, but finding his men being swept off by the enemy's artillery, moved them off the causeway into the water, when finding Colonel Parks of the 43rd Ohio, he received orders from him not to try to go any farther as it was madness. General Howard is said to have criticized the whole of Mower's operation, but it is Mower's style.

Died From Loss of Blood
Memoir of Sgt. John A. Moore, 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, from "A Glance at the Long Ago,"
Bamberg Herald, April 20, 1905:

I note, in my pocket roll of Co. "C," 3rd S.C. Cavalry, which I carried at the time and still have, opposite the name of John B. Woods, "wounded, February 2, '65." He was shot in the leg in a skirmish with the yankees, just below Broxton's Bridges, and died that night of exhaustion from loss of blood. Dr. Kirkland, our surgeon, said, "he believed he could have saved him if he only had some whiskey." Woods was buried at Rivers' Bridges, where he died. He was a good soldier--one that could be depended upon in any emergency.

During the fight the next day . . . our troops were forced to abandon their position to prevent being taken in the rear by the enemy. One of our squads . . . rode right in among the yankees. Cox and Jim Floyd were captured. Corp'l Ed. Robinson and Spilliards escaped by a bold dash. Robinson received a bullet though the folds of his blanket rolled behind his saddle and into his haversack, where it wadded up in a pair of woolen gloves.

Floyd lived to get home after the war, but Cox, poor fellow, died in a yankee prison.

Bang! I Got it in the Neck
Letter of Capt. Ephraim Wilson, 10th Illinois Infantry, to his wife, from
Memoirs of the War, by Captain Ephraim A. Wilson, of Co. "G", 10th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, In One Volume (Cleveland: W. M. Bayne Printing Co., 1893), pp. 407-413:

Officer's Hospital, Beaufort, S.C. Feb. 9, 1865.

I was wounded at a place called River's Bridge . . . where we were forcing the rebels out of a position they had taken up on the opposite side of the stream. ...On the opposite side they were strongly intrenched. In order to effect a crossing of the stream we were obliged to fall trees across. My Company was the first to cross. As soon as the tree was cut I sprang upon it and crossed and ordered the men to follow. In a moment our whole Company were safely over, and in another they were deployed as skirmishers and were engaging the enemy fiercely. ...I had only fairly got my Company deployed and nicely to work, when bang! I got it in the neck, and fell to my knees in water to my waist. I quickly pulled myself to my feet and took a hurried inventory of the damage done me. The blood was gushing out of my wound in great streams and running into my boots. Knowing that I could not stand this loss of blood very much longer, I sent word of my mishap along the line up to the Orderly who was on the right, requesting him to come and take command. On his arrival I wished the boys God-speed and safety, and tottered back to the log over which we had just crossed and struck out for the shore. The balls were flying thick and fast, and if I had been so unfortunate as to be hit again by the enemy, or had fallen off the log in that deep river it would have been all day with me, as I was so crippled in my arms I could not swim. From the river I moved back to where the Regimental Surgeon was stationed and he staunched the flow of blood, then waded back three miles to the field hospital, in water from knee-deep to the waist. ...they wanted to give me an anaesthetic, but I said, "Go ahead, I can stand it." And so I did, but it hurt me frightfully, just the same, to have that great scraggly minie ball cut out of my back.

Left for Dead
Memoir of Capt. Benjamin S. Williams, 47th Georgia Infantry, from "A Confederate Soldier's Memoirs,"
Charleston News, March 8, 1914:

At Rivers's Bridge, in the hottest of the fight in the afternoon [Feb. 3, 1865], Capt. Thompson--Joe--went down, a minie ball striking him on the left cheek under the eye and crushing though, came out near the angle of the jaw on the right side of his face. The young captain was left for dead, and was so reported in our "report" of the battle. At our first stop near Branchville, S.C., I kept my promise and wrote to my good friend, Old Col. Thompson, a long letter of condolence and sympathy, informing him of the death of his son, my friend and comrade.

On my first visit to Savannah, after the war, in the fall of 1865, while on my way to call at Col. Thompson's home, I met Capt. DeWitt Bruyn, captain of Company E, of my regiment, and told him of my intended visit and expressed my dread of the meeting the family on account of Joe's death. Bruyn threw his arm around my shoulder and said: "About face and march with me only a block. I want to show you some one and then you can pay your visit to Col. and Mrs. Thompson."

We halted at the open door of an office and Bruyn said: "Go in." I stepped in, a man wheeled about toward me and I stood face to face within five feet of Joe Thompson, ex-captain of Company C, 47th regiment, Georgia volunteers, who had been "killed" at Rivers's Bridge. His face was disfigured and his speech affected, one eye gone, but--there he was. The young captain had, before our retreat, regained consciousness and, one of the favored, had been cared for and removed. He reached Augusta, Ga., and from there, finally, Savannah, and in the chaotic condition of all things, was in his home rapidly recovering when my letter describing his death--reached his family. He had married his pretty sweetheart, Miss Lizzie Gannon, and years after Joe told me that when at home, if feeling kind of blue and reminiscent, he would get out of a safe-keeping place my letter of condolence to his father and read it aloud to his wife and children.

Thirty Years of Suffering
Letter of Frances M. Cherry, from the pension record of Pvt. Edgar W. Cherry, 32nd Wisconsin Infantry, wounded February 3, 1865 at Rivers Bridge, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.:

Washington D.C.,
Oct., 12, /97

Hon: Commissioners of Pensions:

Dear Sir:

I wish to have my pension case reopened as I am satisfied that my husband died of his army service just as much as though he died in his bed. He went in to the army in perfect health at the age of twenty-eight, leaving me with two little children. After he came out he never saw a well day; his right eye was put out, his nose shot off, so that he was always obliged to breath through his mouth, which brought on lung trouble. He had frequent hemorrhages and spells lasting two weeks at a time that he could only speak in a whisper. While at the hospital at Madison Wis., the doctors gave him chloform which drove him crasy, so they had to lock him in the operating room for the night with nothing on but cotton drawers and this was in april and he was afterwards three hours at one time and two hours in another, under the surgeon's knife with out taking any opiate whatever. He never recovered from the exposure or shock. His brain was never just right after that. After thirty years of suffering he died leaving me without any means of support. I send two physicians certificates. What more proof do I need to get?

I hope you will give my case your earliest attention, as my little pension is all the support I have.

Respectfully
Frances M. Cherry
#113 Park Place N.E.

My husband served in the Co., A. 32nd Wis., Infantry.

Questions for Reading 3

1. Which would you consider to be more reliable as a source of information, official reports or personal accounts? Why? What purposes do the personal accounts here serve?

2. What was General Mower's "style" discussed in Lt. Col. Jackson's diary account of the battle? What did Jackson identify as the major problem with Mower's style? What effect did it have on his troops? What were the opinions of some of the Union soldiers about attacking the Confederate position?

3. Sergeant Moore's memoir names several men from his unit who were killed, wounded, or captured at Rivers Bridge, but Moore's regiment, the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, is not mentioned in the official Confederate casualty list. What does Sergeant Moore's account tell you about the difficulties commanders face in getting accurate casualty reports?

4. Captain Wilson, Captain Thompson, and Private Cherry survived the gunshot wounds they received at Rivers Bridge. Note the differences in tone of their accounts. Do they reveal anything about the severity of the men's wounds and how these men were able to deal with them? Might the differences have anything to do with when and for what reasons the accounts were written? When did Ephraim Wilson write his account and who was it for? When was Ben Williams' memoir written and who probably read it? Why did Mrs. Cherry write her letter?

5. Being shot in a Civil War battle was often just the beginning of a long ordeal for the wounded soldier. What were some of the hardships that wounded Confederate soldiers at Rivers Bridge, such as Captain Thompson, had to endure? How would their travails be similar to or different from those faced by wounded Union soldiers, such as Captain Wilson and Private Cherry?

6. What does Mrs. Cherry's letter reveal about her husband's wound and how it affected him years after the war? What do the content and tone of Mrs. Cherry's letter tell you about the toll her husband's wound had on her and her children?

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