“His command…merits the thanks of the country for its noble stand at the crossing of the Chickamauga…”, affirmed Major General William Rosecrans speaking of the role played by Col. John T. Wilder’s vaunted “Lightning Brigade” in the opening act of the Battle of Chickamauga.
Major General George Thomas was equally effusive in recommending Wilder for a promotion to brigadier citing his “ingenuity…in occupying the attention of the entire corps of the rebel army”, his “valor”, and “excellent service” … “before and during the battle of Chickamauga”. Three stars clearly shone brightly in the dark of the Union disaster at Chickamauga.
One was that of Old Pap Thomas whose heroic stand at Snodgrass Hill saved the Union army and garnered him the sobriquet of “Rock of Chickamauga”. The second was that of Gordon Granger who marched to the sound of the guns and, with Thomas, helped save the day.
And the third was none other than that of an Indiana industrialist, now colonel, John Thomas Wilder. In the six months leading up to the battle, through scouting and raiding in Middle Tennessee and giving battle at Hoover’s Gap, Wilder had crafted and molded one of the most powerful and unique units of the Civil War.
Come join on January 15 (please note the date) us as Historian Jim Ogden relates the story of Wilder’s famed Mounted Infantry Brigade and how they proved their mettle at Chickamauga. From a key role on the initial Union left to the application of deadly firepower on the Union’s new right, Wilder’s Brigade shaped the action wherever they were on the field. Famously armed with the Spencer Repeating Rifle, the Brigade’s success was due not just to the new arm, but also to the leadership exercised by Wilder and his lieutenants and the character of the men under them. All of this and more will be a part of Ogden’s talk, “Lightning Strikes at Chickamauga.” This is one you’re not going to want to miss!
Jim Ogden, Chief Historian at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, is an historian, teacher, and tour guide par excellence. A frequent speaker at Round Tables and historical organizations across the U.S., Jim is a longtime friend of the KCWRT, our most visited speaker, and the first historian to be awarded with an honorary lifetime membership to our organization.
A native of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Jim joined the National Park Service in 1982 and served at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Russell Cave, and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania before returning to Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP in 1988 as historian, the position he now holds. Jim has taught numerous history courses, led hundreds of tours and army staff rides, and written several articles on the Civil War. He also has appeared in several TV productions including “Civil War Journal”, “Civil War Combat”, and “History Detectives”.
Over the years Jim has been the recipient of a host of awards for his scholarship, preservation and advocacy work. His most recent awards include the United States Army Commander’s Award for Public Service and the Civil War Trust’s National Park Service Preservation Advocate Award, both bestowed in 2017.
Jim, his wife Lora, and their son Jamie (born on the133rd anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg) live in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia near the Chickamauga Battlefield.
By Dennis Urban
George Messer was a 30 year old musician in Company F, 107th Illinois Infantry, who wrote his wife from the Lamar House Hospital in Knoxville on December 23, 1863. He was hoping to be home on furlough for Christmas. But that is getting ahead of the story.
George was a carpenter from DeWitt County, IL who was married but two years when he enlisted on Independence Day in 1862. In June 1860, he lived on a farm with his older brother and his mother. His father was absent from the home. His reasons for enlisting are unknown but given the date he enlisted perhaps patriotism after a rousing speech played a part. Maybe he enlisted as a musician so he would not have to carry a musket into combat. He may not have known that musicians were used as stretcher bearers to evacuate the wounded during battle. Many times they were in the thick of the action. The regiment was mustered into Federal service on September 4 and trained at Camp Butler, east of Springfield IL, before they left for the front. That fall the 107th spent time chasing John Hunt Morgan around Kentucky. These escapades did not result in any casualties within the regimen
George was a prolific letter writer to his wife Charlotte, whom he addressed as Lottie. Lottie was five years younger than he. His letter of December 23 was his 89th letter home. He numbered all his letters. George proved to be a sickly soldier, frequently writing about his intestinal diarrhea difficulties. As the regiment moved around, George spent most of his time in regimental hospitals. His letters indicate that he was sick more than he was well. He provided Lottie with news of the regiment and of those relatives and friends serving with him. He frequently sent money home. George offered Lottie advice on managing the farm. By September 25th the regiment was in Loudon, TN and George was again sick in the hospital for the next two weeks. He did recover and reported himself “well and hearty” to Lottie on October 11. His recovery was short-lived as he wrote on October 26 that he was “very poor and weak” and weighing 135#.
The 107th arrived in Knoxville the next day (October 27) at which time George began his stay at the Lamar House hospital. His letter of October 30 (#83) provides an excellent description of the Lamar House as a hospital. He writes, “the house that this hospital is in was a large hotel called the Lamar House and was owned by a Rebel and abandoned when our forces first came to this place. It is a splendid house and is well-suited for a hospital. There is now about two hundred & fifty patients in it. Some of them are pretty bad and some stout and hearty as men need be. There is about three deaths every twenty-four hours which is a very small average for a hospital of this size. I am way up on the third story and can have a view of over half the city from the window. [John] Minor Jolley [of Co. B] and myself are in a room with five others and we keep ourselves pretty comfortable.” George’s observations about the Lamar House provide some interesting information. We know the Lamar House had several additions built onto the original building especially on the north and west sides of the block. Being in a room with six others meant they were in quite a large room, perhaps even a corner room although he only mentions one window. Since he could view over half the city, he could have occupied a north facing room.
George remained in the Lamar House Hospital during November and he again wrote home from there on December 3. He commented that, “I am very weak and I can’t keep my diarrhea stopped long enough at a time to gain much strength…I don’t think that I will get entirely well until I can get to come home where I can get proper diet and better care and nursing.” He tells Lottie of some “sharp fighting” that had occurred in November (Fort Sanders) in which one soldier was killed and four others of the 107th were wounded. He concludes by telling her of his efforts to get sent home to recuperate but says it is impossible to get anyone’s attention with all that is happening.
This brings the story to George’s letter of December 23 (#89). George was trying to get a furlough to come home for Christmas but the medical director told him that furloughs were not being granted as the railroad was not in running order to Chattanooga. He wrote Lottie that “I think that I am getting a little better and have been mending slowly since I wrote to you last. I am gaining strength but my feet and legs are so bloated and swelled and so stiff that I can hardly get up when I am down. But when I am up a little while, I can manage to walk a little from my room out into the hall and back. I have not been downstairs on the ground for four weeks. I would be able to go down now if I was not so stiff for when I do go down, I have three pairs of stairs to go down and up again which is considerable of a job for me even if I was not so stiff. But I think the Dr will give me something to help that in a few days. He is very attentive to me.”
On the same sheet, George added additional information on Christmas Eve. He wrote, “During the siege here at this place, I was considerable under the weather and the prospect at one time was doubtful whose hands we would fall into, so I went to work one day and destroyed all of your letters that I had as I did not wish for other Eyes to see what was never intended they should and I did not know but I would get down so I could not take care of them myself. I am sorry that I done so now but it is too late. You must not think hard of me for doing so. Those other keepsakes, the locks of hair of yourself and our Dear Child that sleeps beneath the sod, I keep close to me night and day and shall still continue to do so. I would get my Likeness taken and send to you but I am affraid it would scare you. But I dont look so very poor in my face for it is nearly covered with hair. and besides, being considerable bloated, I shal not send my Likeness for a little while untill I see whether I get to come home any ways soon which I think will be known in the next three weeks at farthest.”
When George closed this letter, his words proved to be prophetic. “My Darling Wife Good By from your Ever True and Loving Husband”. Thirty year old George Messer died on December 30, 1863 without ever leaving the Lamar House. His family was first notified of his passing through a letter from Lottie’s nephew (Willy), a soldier in the same Company F as George, to Lottie’s parents. Willy and a company lieutenant were able to recover some of George’s possessions and send them to Lottie. Some of his personal items and some of his money were stolen from his room after his death. Other items were sold to pay for what he owed the regiment. Letters were written concerning returning his remains to DeWitt County in the spring for burial. This was never accomplished for today George Messer lies in Section A of the National Cemetery in Knoxville, six rows removed from the center flagpole.
As we give thanks for all of our many blessings this Christmas and Holiday Season, it would be well to remember George and all the other soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Sources: https://messerweb.wordpress.com and collection of Dennis Urban
This story first appeared in the KCWRT monthly newsletter, The Scout, in February 2014. Because of the time of year connected to the story below, it is timely to republish this fascinating piece of local history which may not be known to the average area resident. Additional information has been updated and added to the original article.
In talking with (one of our older members) before the last meeting about the Raby families in Roane County during the late war, I mentioned that I recently learned about the Loveville community that was near the intersection of Kingston Pike and the current Lovell Road. The gentleman knew of the community and later sent me this photo of the historic marker noting a short history of the community.
The marker reads, “Robertus Love, a companion of Gen. James White, who founded Knoxville, established the village in this area in 1797 where he built a fulling mill in 1792. Several of the early buildings still exist a short distance from the highway. The name of the village has been corrupted to Lovell.” The marker is long gone and my contact was unable to find out what happened to it. Several things are interesting about the photo. The Oak Ridge sign in the left background appears to be a mileage marker to the town. So the sign dates to after the Oak Ridge town was common knowledge. Also the car to the left of the sign appears to be late 1940s or early 1950s; so the sign is probably early 1950s.
Loveville is seen on an 1850 area map just east of Campbell’s Station along the Kingston Road. I could not resist thinking that this Loveville community must have
some relation to the Mary Love family of Kingston. The same Mary Love, who in early December 1863, volunteered to carry a message from General Grant to General Burnside at Knoxville. She began her perilous journey in Kingston and reached Louisville, TN. At that point a 13-year-old boy completed the trip to Knoxville and the message reached Burnside. The story is related in gre
ater detail in the book, The Knoxville Campaign, by Earl J. Hess, on page 181. I write about this because I continue to be fascinated by the early history our region. Loveville and its buildings are gone forever. Many area residents don’t know that Loveville became the Lovell area and a road was given the corrupted name. I can only wonder what other intriguing details or even photographs of this Loveville community exist. If you can contribute to this story, let me know.
The photo below shows the group who worked at Fort Dickerson last Saturday preparing for our upcoming Living History weekend, October 26-28.
This group worked really hard. A special shoutout to the Explorer Scouts of Knoxville Police Department Explorer 300 who have helped us at the fort for several years now
From L to R: Annalisa Roehrig, Gus Roehrig, Kelly Henson, Travis Henson, Blaise Creswell, Elijah Beatty, Kate Grote, Fiora Cruey, and event organizer Eric Wayland.
ANTIETAM BATTLEFIELD VISIT LETTER OF CIVILIAN
MARY E. HOFFER, MOUNT JOY, PA
WRITTEN OCTOBER 27, 1862 TO “MY DEAR FRIEND”
September 17 is the 156th anniversary of the greatest single day battle loss in American history. Over 23,000 Americans destroyed each other near Sharpsburg, MD. For this fateful anniversary, I would like to share a letter from my personal collection. It is the finest description of the field post-battle I have ever read.
Mary Hoffer of Mount Joy, PA was a 16-year-old young lady who visited the battlefield with the father and her uncle on October 2, 1862. She wrote a very vivid and detailed description of her visit to a friend on October 27.
The letter is transcribed exactly as written complete with spelling and punctuation errors. I created several paragraphs for ease of reading. Mary’s descriptions are vivid and exact. Her mention of the specific accoutrements of soldiers shows quite a good knowledge of these items, which she may have learned from her uncle and father on the day of their visit. Mary was well-educated and well-written. Mary’s comments about the appearance of the Confederate soldiers are poignant and memorable. She had a genuine interest in the battle which perhaps was due to the earlier drafting of several of her cousins. Mary visited the Antietam battlefield on October 2, 1862, just two weeks after battle and on the very day Lincoln and his party arrived in Sharpsburg from Harpers Ferry. Mary and her party did not wait to see President Lincoln.
From the description given in the letter it’s possible to speculate on the areas of the field Mary visited. Coming from Hagerstown they probably first stopped at either the J. Poffenberger farm or the David R. Miller farm, which is just north of the famous cornfield. Both of these farms had small orchards adjacent to the farmhouse. The reference to the burial of “248 soldiers in the orchard” may be the best clue to this specific location. Since soldiers were buried near where they fell, the 248 could be either Union or Confederate soldiers buried on the David Miller farm.
The 1868 publication A Descriptive List of the Burial Places of the Remains of Confederate Soldiers, Who Fell in the Battles of Antietam… compiled at the behest of Maryland Governor Bowie, refers to the burials of large numbers of unknown on the D.R. Miller farm but does not specifically reference the number 248 or burials in the Miller orchard. There were no specific mentions of burials on the J. Poffenberger farm. The burned brick houses probably refer to the Mumma farm and buildings. The rebel “breastwork of rails” likely refers to the area of the sunken road. The sharpshooters tree could be the Confederate positions around the Burnside Bridge. Mary also visited the Dunker Church and the Grove farm where Lincoln reviewed the troops and met with General McClellan. Because Mary’s uncle had been to the battlefield several times, her tour was complete and thorough. The group stopped to talk with and get information from both Union and Confederate soldiers.
The draft to which Mary refers is probably the national draft signed into law by Lincoln on July 17, 1862 which encompassed all able-bodied men between 18 and 45 and established state quotas based on population. The civil war database lists quite a few Hoffer and Engle (maiden name of Mary’s mother) soldiers from Lancaster and Hanover counties who enlisted prior to September 1862. The complete letter follows below.
— Dennis Urban
Knoxville Civil War Roundtable
Mount Joy. Oct 27 1862.
My Dear Friend.
I suppose you almost thought I was not going to fulfill my promise I made when I left your place, but I could not possibly write sooner. We arrived home safe and sound a little over two weeks ago, being gone near two weeks. I enjoyed my visit very much.
We did not get to the battle field on Wednesday as we expected. We came to one of my Uncles living seven miles from Hagerstown, on Wednesday morning and our intention was to visit the field that day but they persuaded father to stay until Thursday morning and then they would go with us. We were very glad afterwards that Uncle was along, because he had been down several times and therefore knew best where the most was to be seen. It is indeed a place worth seeing.
The stench coming from the dead horses with which the ground was covered, made me feel quite sick at first, but I was soon used to it; After we were there a while I did not mind passing within three or four yards of a dead horse that had been lying three weeks in the sun. There were still a great many wounded rebels their and a few Union Soldiers that could not be moved. The first effect of the battle we saw was at a farm house, where the battle must have commenced. The house and barn and all the out buildings that could be used, were filled with wounded men and the garden and a great many tents behind the house were full. I did not get out of the carriage, because it was morning and they were getting their wounds dressed. I saw one lying in the
garden with his both legs off below the knee, and had nothing over him but the sky.
There was a Union Soldier their, told us that they buried 248 soldiers in the orchard and a lot belonging to that house, that had died their since the battle and there were still some yet that could not recover. Father was all around the place and saw them all, he saw two rebels that were dying, that were not seriously wounded, but they would not leave the bandages on the wounds, they said they wanted to die, the one even tried to kill himself that morning. I saw one walking. I saw one walking about with the right side of his face bandaged and upon inquiry found he had the half of his face shot off by a piece of a bomb shell. It took off half of his nose and mouth and his cheek and he was able to eat and speak. While we were their a lot of ambulances arrived, to take off the rebels could be moved, they are all paroled and will be sent to Dixie
After we left that house we saw nothing but ruined fields, fences and houses, at some places there was nothing left of the large brick farm houses but the bricks and ashes and the fences torn down, a person could drive out of the fields where they wished, and they were tramped as hard as the pike and soldiers clothes, knapsacks, haversacks cartridge boxes, tin plates, cups canteens, bullets, whole bombshells and pieces, caps, cartriges, army crackers, torn papers, dead horses, and soldiers graves all over them. The Union Soldiers were all nicely buried, with a board at the head of the grave, giving the name, company & regiment the person was in, some had neat little fences around them and some a large flat stone layed on them by their comrades, which how much they love their brother soldiers. The remains of a great many were taken up by their friends and taken home, we met a great many wagons going too and from the battle field with coffins.
The rebels are all buried in long trenches and nicely covered that is those that were buried by our men, but we saw some that the rebels buried, they had their heads knees and feet above the ground, not exactly their heads but the skulls were their yet. I saw the breastwork of rails put up by the rebels, and the tree the rebel sharpshooter was shot off of while picking off our officers, and the church riddled with bullets, some large enough for me to creep through, that is without hoops.
I could tell you of a great many more things I saw but time will not permit. We were also through the camp near Sharpsburg, there are a great many wounded soldiers their and they nearly all look very clean and comfortable, several that had one arm shot off were able to walk about again. I always had an idea the rebels must be horrid ugly, but I was not a little surprised to see some of the handsomest young men with the wounded that I ever saw, one quite young looking boy especially that had both his feet off.
The President, Gen McLellan and some distinguished officers were their that day but we could not wait till they arrived, but we saw some ten or twelve thousand soldiers in a large field waiting for them. I must now stop writing about the battle field or you will fall asleep while reading it, and maybe when you are done you cannot take and sense out of it. The draft has created a good deal of excitement around here, there were a good many of my cousins drafted. Our town has given four more volunteers than its quota and therefore there was no draft needed here. I hope their are none of your friends drafted. I must now close hoping to hear from you very soon. my best respects to all my friends.
Truly your friend
Mary E. Hoffer
Mount Joy, Lancaster Co. Pa.
By May of 1864, the Civil War, now in its fourth year and showing no signs of abating , had reached a whole new level of intensity. Around the sleepy Virginia village of Spotsylvania Court House, Robert E. Lee’s Confederates dug-in, defending the road to Richmond, while the Federals under Ulysses S. Grant and George Gordon Meade pounded on them relentlessly.
Tactics changed at Spotsylvania–innovations in earthworks and how to attack them had evolved to a new level by this point–all of which led to the single worst bloodletting of the tragic Overland Campaign.
Come join us as Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Lead Historian Frank O’Reilly takes us back to the Battle of the Bloody Angle and the prelude attack at the Mule Shoe that set the stage for this incredible white-heat moment of combat. Spotsylvania became a life-and-death struggle for the Union and the Confederacy which created a profound legacy that endures to this day.
WELCOME BACK TO KNOXVILLE, FRANK O’REILLY!
Frank A. O’Reilly received both his BA and MA in American History with a concentration in Early American Military History and Civil War Studies. After graduating from Washington & Lee University in 1987, he joined the National Park Service at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Later he worked with the Park Service at Independence Hall in Philadelphia before returning to Fredericksburg in 1990 as the park’s permanent historian. He has also served as an historical consultant for the City of Fredericksburg. O’Reilly, who has lectured extensively on military history to audiences around the world, has written numerous articles on the Civil War and Mexican War and has appeared on CSPAN and in several video documentaries.
He is the author of Stonewall Jackson at Fredericksburg and The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock which garnered several awards including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters. Currently he is researching a book on the Battle of Malvern Hill and the Seven Days’ Campaign around Richmond.