Thousands of retreating Union troops burst from the cedars in front of these cannon, followed by Confederates. The Chicago Board of Trade Battery sprang to action as the Pioneer Brigade poured volley after volley into the gray ranks. Canister charges forced the Confederates back to the cedars.
Shouts of “Give them hell!” rose up from the men who fought on this ground. As the Confederates broke through the tree line onto this field, two untested units anchored this part of the Union line: The Chicago Board of Trade Battery and the Pioneer Brigade.
Union General William S. Rosecrans understood that an army on the march was only as good as the roads that carried them. To address this, he ordered that two men from each company in the army be selected for their skill with an ax and shovel to serve in a Pioneer Brigade. The Pioneers built and repaired roads, bridges, and fortifications. When the army encountered the enemy, they were to return to their original units and take up arms.
On the afternoon of December 31, 1862, the Confederates attacked the Union troops here three times. The Confederates came within 50 yards of the Union line before they faltered. A Union sergeant of the Pioneer Brigade recalled “the rebel flag, seen dimly through the smoke and trees, wavered, started forward, and then surged back. Yes! There was no mistake about it! It was going back!”
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Last updated: May 4, 2020