Letter from Sergeant Frank Phelps of the 10th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Camp at Chattanooga, Tenn.
December 2, 1863
MY DEAR FRIENDS:
Again has the army of the Cumberland with Hooker’s and Grant’s brave boys routed and scattered Bragg’s Army while yet exulting over their dear bought victory, if you call it that, of Chickamauga. You have ere this seen detailed accounts of the fight, but yet it may be interesting to know what I saw and did in the fight though the latter part was very small.
I will commence away back to the first signs we got of an advance movement. On the 19th of last month we had orders for each man to have 100 rounds of ammunition. The usual amount we have to carry is only 40 rounds, so we knew something was up. The next day, we had orders to go on picket with two days’ rations. Well, we went out, when it commenced to rain and rained almost every hour we were out.
While we were on the lines, we were not very far apart, only a little creek between us. The rebs were very friendly, coming down on the bank to trade papers, canteens or anything they could get. I had a New York Tribune, which I exchanged for an Augusta paper. The next day I exchanged a Wis. State Journal for the Richmond News. They wanted to get playing cards the most. One fellow offered me Greenbacks or gold if I would get him some. He said they had to pay $12 per pack for them and they were good for nothing.
We were on two days, and at the station where we were, 27 rebels deserted and came over. We were relieved on the morning of the 22nd. That afternoon we received orders to be ready to move at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. We got ready and then the order was countermanded. We were not to leave camp, but to hold ourselves ready to move at a moment’s notice. At noon, we were ordered to move out into the rifle pits. The position of our brigade and division is on the extreme right, and we expected that we were going to make for Lookout Mountain, or that there would be a general advance. At one o’clock, our heavy guns from Fort Wood and all along the lines opened on the enemy.
Soon we heard skirmishing on the left. Then we understood the movement. After some heavy firing, our forces drove the rebels from their rifle pits. When we stopped for the night, we were not allowed to leave the works as the rebels might make a movement on our right. During the night, we were moved up to support a battery of 20-pound Parrotts. Just before daylight, we were ordered to leave half of the regiment there (which was only 30 men) and take the rest down to Louis battery. The rest of the brigade had moved out to the front.
The next morning we expected to have a fight, but it was still all along the lines. At 10 o’clock, there was some firing away off in Lookout Valley where Hooker had his camps. Pretty soon the firing became more general and the first thing we saw was our men charging up Lookout Mountain. It commenced to rain about noon and it was so foggy we could not see very well. At dark, we held the mountain. Our brigade had driven the rebels on this side and joined Hooker. We expected to go out and join the brigade during the night, but they could get no horses for the battery, so we had to stay.
The next morning was clear, but awful cold. The rebs had left Lookout Mountain and our forces had gone over through the valley toward Missionary Ridge. Hooker had got to Rossville, which place we made our stand on Monday. Left here is a large gap or pass between the two ridges. From this place Hooker could come up in the rear of the rebels on Mission Ridge. Sherman with Grant’s Western boys had gone up the river to where Chickamauga Creek empties into the river and crossed over, bagging about 100 rebs that were making rafts to float down the river to break our pontoon bridges. Here we took possession of a large knob on the north end of Mission Ridge, while Maj. Gen. Howard with the 11th Corps opened communications with Sherman from this way…
Soon I could see our line advance. Our brigade held the right, forward they went, but the hill was steep and high and the rebels were packed in their rifle pits. Our men come up within range when they fire and charge up with the bayonet. The rebels either retreat or surrender. After charging the rebels out of five lines of rifle pits, we reach the top of the hill and, almost at the same time, the batteries of the rebels stop firing. They have been firing on Sherman and Thomas as fast as guns could be worked. A cheer reaches us, and on the double quick do our men face towards Sherman and go to his relief.
The rebel center is broken. We have got all of their heavy guns and hold possession of all the ridge except where the railroad goes through. There the rebels have massed the remainder of their army. From that point they can rake the whole ridge with grape and canister. We can see 20 different guns open almost at the same instant. Guns that had been firing towards Sherman all the forenoon are now firing in the opposite direction. The roar of musketry and artillery is heavier than before; a huge column of smoke rises away over to our right. The rebels are burning their stores. Hooker is working there. Night comes on and the rebels hold their position on Tunnel Hill. Sherman had been repulsed three times, but the fourth time he was victorious and the rebels had to leave.
That night, all was still. Bragg’s Army had been defeated and driven from every position. Chickamauga had been avenged. That night our forces bivouacked in the rebel camp. The next morning our forces were in pursuit of the retreating rebels. At Ringold, Bragg tried to make another stand. He had chosen a good position, but our column, which went on our old road from Bridgeport, over the mountain to Trenton, came up in his rear, and joined onto Hooker. He was soon driven from there. Here our army had to stop on account of supplies. During the night our brigade started back and reached here the next afternoon. Bragg lost all of his artillery and about 15,000 prisoners. This is the first fight down in this section of the country that the old 10th was not in the front ranks. Our brigade was there and we would have been if we had officers, but one regiment had to be left back, and we were that lucky regiment…
Yours as ever,
FRANK W. PHELPS
Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 180-83