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The Battle of Chickamauga.


We are permitted to publish the following private letter written by an eye-witness of the Battle of Chickamauga to his brother in his city:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Sept. 22, 1863.

DEAR BROTHER: Before this reaches you, you will have doubtless heard that one of the hardest fought battles in the West has come off near this place. What the final result is going to be, is as yet undecided — certainly thus far, it has been a severe blow to the Union cause. It has been generally known here for some days past that the rebels were in our front in strong force, that they had been strongly reinforced from the eastern armies. Rosecrans' forces had become scattered in crossing the mountains in pursuit of Bragg. Thank God our army had all got gathered together before the attack was made, else the result must have been much more disastrous. Our army had for a few days before the battle been moving gradually to our left, to cover Chattanooga. Friday, the 18th, about five o'clock, P. M., we commenced a rapid movement to the left, as it was expected the enemy would try to turn our left flank and enter Chattanooga. Our trains all moved by a road in the rear of the troops. I had charge of about sixty head of Commissary cattle which I was ordered to take with the trains. About midnight we camped on Chattanooga creek, some seven miles in the rear of the 14th Army Corps. I heard the firing commence about 10 o'clock Saturday morning. It appeared to extend along the whole line, which was formed in this order: McCook's corps (20th) on the right; Thomas' (14th) center; Crittenden's (21st) on the left. The reserve corps, (Granger's) or a part of it, had also come up and some of them were engaged on the left. I went out to the field after dinner and watched the battle for some time. I took some rations out for George but did not succeed in finding him. The fighting was hard, repeated charges were made on both sides. The rebels charged on and took Loomis' Regular battery of the Regular Brigade in Reynold's division, and the 9th Ohio of our division charged and recaptured it. Thus the battle went all day; as soon as the rebels would drive charge and recapture it. While I was there the 79th Indiana came back all cut to pieces. Their Colonel and other officers tried to stop them, but could not rally them. I saw a battery come back with two pieces gone. But let me say in justice to the 79th Indiana that a little while before they ran they had captured and brought off a battery.

Although we gained but little in Saturday's fight, it was satisfactory from the fact that we held our own, if nothing more, and took some prisoners. Recollect that the rebel force was double our own. I returned to camp last night that is, to were our trains were — and started the next morning early with some more provisions for George. I met him about half way, coming back after rations for the men. We went back to the train and got three days rations for our division and some cattle, and started for the front. The firing had commenced about nine o'clock, with a very heavy attack on our right. We had 18 wagons loaded with supplies; the rest of the train then moved towards Chattanooga, (12 miles). When we got within a couple of miles of the battle-field we met a large number of stragglers going to the rear. They all told extravagant stories of being cut to pieces, etc. George had gone ahead, so I undertook to get some of them to go back. I gathered a good many of them up and got them to fall in to guard our train. As soon as I got them started they soon gathered up more and more. But we had gone but a little way farther when we met trains, ambulances, and a complete tide of men going to the rear. We learned then that our right wing had given way, and that all trains were ordered to Chattanooga. We had to turn our train around and go back. Thus the men I had gathered up were worse scared than ever, and all began retreating rapidly. I rode up on a little knoll towards the front, where I could get a view of a large portion of the field. The sight was truly heart-sickening. Out of the woods there came one continual stream — not only along the road, but on either side of it as far as I could see — of men (some wounded), wagons, ambulances, cavalry, niggers, droves of cattle — all one interminable mass of confusion, all trying to get in front of each other, all driving pell-mell through fields, over fences, while the dust and smoke, the booming of cannon and rattling of musketry, all plainly showed that the enemy were advancing, and that our right had become panic-stricken. Oh, I never till then knew how I loved my country. I could not keep back the tears as I thought of the consequences of that retreat, and I prayed to God to succor and maintain our army. I did not like to leave that little knoll to join that retreating host, for such it had become, growing larger and larger all the time.

Soon after we had got down off Missionary Ridge with our train, and got into the valley road towards Chattanooga, Gen. McCook and staff came riding by, going from the field; this appeared to give a fresh impetus to the retreat. George rode up to him and asked him how the day was going. "Oh," said McCook, "this is the worst whipped army ever you saw." "Well," said George, "can't these men be rallied in this valley and hold it?" "No, they cannot be rallied this side of Chattanooga," said McCook. "Well," said George, "is our whole line giving way?" "No," said McCook, "General Thomas is trying to rally the men, and is fighting away."

I was too full to speak, but I felt like cursing the man that would leave the field, as McCook had done, in that critical hour when every man was needed. How could men be expected to fight when their commanding General left the field? But, thank God, I felt that there was one hope still left us when I knew that Gen. Thomas still kept the field. Oh, how I love that man; I can't keep from trying now to think how I felt then.

Now, mark you, this critical hour of the day was about one o'clock P. M. Various reports were coming from the field all the time: that we were whipped; that Rosecrans was captured; that the left was broken, etc.; but still we could hear them fighting in the centre and knew that Thomas was still holding them in check. When within about four miles of Chattanooga, George and I had got a little way ahead of our train and got off of our horses at the top of a little hill in an open field, and were looking back and forwards at the long line of retreat — at the marks of defeat on all sides, when a courier rode up to us at a gallop and said, "Captain, the day is yet ours, and everything is ordered back." I was too full to cheer. I could do nothing but cry, and while George galloped off to turn our wagons around. I rode among the men through the fields and told them the news; told them that we were going back with a supply train, and to fall in and go along. I believe nearly every man that was not wounded turned to go back, and in a few minutes the tide was turned, and that long line of men began going the other way. And as the news was repeated from lip to lip, they all began turning around to go back, George and I had them fall in with the wagons and got back about a mile, when we met almost a whole brigade — at least what was left of one — Colonel Wilder's. We stepped them and told them the news. It was then near sundown, and the road for miles was blocked up with ambulances full of wounded, and trains going to Chattanooga, so that it was impossible to get our wagons any farther back — besides, we learned our division had moved to the left so far that we could not reach them by that road. Col. Wilder, however, stopped his men there and bivouacked, and a great many of the stragglers also stopped there, so that it gave a check to the retreating.

We took our train to a creek about two miles from Chattanooga and camped and got the rations out to the men early Monday morning. — Yes, the enemy had not only been checked then, but were actually driven back, and the army was saved, and Gen. Thomas is the man who did it. Gens. Rosecrans, McCook and Crittenden were all in Chattanooga by 2 o'clock; six or eight miles from where the hard fighting was going on. But Gen. Thomas kept the field, and by his almost superhuman efforts rallied the men and drove back three times his number of men, who were already shouting their cry of victory. And although this had been pronounced a badly whipped army, by a commanding General, too, and although the other Generals had all left the field; in defiance of all this he rallied his men and punished the enemy so severely that he did not attack us at all yesterday. And had he only had some fresh troops yesterday we might have attacked and routed the enemy.

I was on the field issuing rations to the men yesterday morning when Gen. Thomas rode along the line. It was the first rest, and almost the first thing the men had had to eat for two days and nights; but they left everything and rushed around the General with a yell. He stopped, took off his hat and thanked them for the way they had behaved. They gave him three hearty cheers as he started to ride off, but he had got but a few steps when they surrounded him again, they could not let him go. It was a truly affecting sight, — this his old division gathering around him in that wasy. He took off his hat and said, "Well, men, as soon as we get a little bread and meat and some more ammunition we will be ready for them again." They made no general attack yesterday, but felt around our lines a little and threw some shell around near enough to some of us to make us change our fort, but I believe no one was hurt.

Our division in the two days' fight lost about 4,400 out of less than 8,000, and but very few of them were captured. So you may know they were in the thickest of it, but they never fell back an inch unless ordered to. They never took a position that they did not hold until relieved. In the third brigade of our division there was not a mounted officer, except two, but what had his horse shot — some of the officers had three horses shot under them.

Last night our army fell back to within about a mile of Chattanooga and fortified. Our army can hold the place if reinforcements only reach us in time, which I hope they will do. If not the enemy will doubtless flank us. They can cross the mountains, just as we did, and strike Bridgeport or Stevenson, which would compel us to fall back to Murfreesboro or Nashville, which would prolong the war another year. Why can't Meade take Richmond now?

We have captured quite a number of prisoners belonging to Longstreet's corps. Burnside must surely be here soon, McPherson and Sherman, of Grant's army, are also expected soon. I do hope they will all reach us in time.

The wagons, the wounded, etc., are all sent to the north side of the Tennessee river. Our train crossed yesterday. I have been on the other side a couple of times to-day. All was quiet, though while I have been writing this, the rebels have been throwing a few shells into our lines, and I can hear the infantry pickets exchanging a few shots. George was in all first day's fight, but did not get hurt.

Affectionately, VESTER.