O. P. HARGIS
"We came very near capturing General Wilder"
A Georgia farm boy tells about his service in Wheeler's Cavalry. By O. P. Hargis
The following story appeared in two early issues of The Confederate Veteran.
I AM WRITING this little book to show the rising generation how people lived when I was a boy. I was born in 1846 on a farm near Cass Station, in old Cass County, Georgia, now Bartow, near the Western Atlantic Railroad. People in those days in the country lived in log houses as a general thing; and the kitchen was in the yard. We had no stove, then, but cooked on the fireplace in skillets and ovens and old fashioned gridles. We lived hog and homney style, they raised everything we consumed on the farm. My father was a hard working man and taught his boys to work; there were five brothers of us and two sisters, all stout and healthy.
When my father was about forty-five years old, he began to loose his health, after awhile he got so he could not work any on the farm; we boys cultivated the farm under his directions. One evening late, father came out to the field where brother Henry and brother Dick was plowing and as they drove out to the end of the row, father said, 'Well boys, you have done a good days plowing., sit down and rest a while,' they sat down on the grass, and father began to talk about different things, at last he said, 'boys, there is going to be a war and it is going to be a bad one, I won't live to see it but you will probably be in it, and if you are I want you to make good soldiers.'
MY FATHER died in 1857, and the war he spoke of broke out in '61. Mr. Lincoln was elected President of the United States. The South would not agree to that and serve under his administration. They rebelled and claimed that they had a right to seceed from the Union. They withdrew until there was thirteen states that withdrew from the Union. They began to raise companies and regiments to fight against Mr. Lincoln's administration; after they got enough men in the field they sent them to different parts of the country to defend their borders.
The first one of us boys to volunteer was brother Henry, he joined Company B, Phillips Legion cavalry and went to Northern Virginia in 1861 under General Floyd; that left the rest of us to work and support a widowed mother. The war increased in fury and brother Dick was the next to volunteer, he went to Virginia, joined Company B, Phillips' Legion under General Stewarts [Stuart's] cavalry. My brother, T. V. Hargis, was shrewd enough to keep out of the War by hiring a substitute, that left myself and younger brother J. F. Hargis in charge of the farm. We done the best we could until May '64. General Johnston's army had fell back to Resaca by that time I was eighteen years old and I told my heart broken mother that I would have to leave her and go into the service.
WHEN I began to make my arrangements to go to the front, my choice was the cavalry. Lieutenant Gilbreath was at home on a furlow at that time, he came to our house one day. I told him that I wanted to come to his company and he said alright when do you want to come? I told him that I wanted to come right away. Well, if you say so, I will muster you into the service right now. I told him all right. He sat down by a little table and enrolled my name and mustered me in. I forget just how it was done. He went back to his regiment and I started in a few days. I told my mother that I would have to take the young horse that we had raised on the farm, and she said all right. I fixed up my saddle and blankets and haversack ready to start to the front next morning. I bid my mother goodbye, mounted my horse and started.
When I arrived at Calhoun, I could hear the booming of artillery. I arrived at Resaca at about three o'clock in the evening and found the First Georgia Cavalry camped just below Resaca on this side of the river. The boys that belonged to the company I enlisted in was all glad to see me, for I knew a great many of them. I selected my messmates, Mathew McDonald and myself were together until he was captured at Robertsville, S.C. After the fight, we were ordered back to our horses. You don't know how sad I felt when I saw that my trusted companion's saddle was empty. I did not know whether he was killed or captured and never found out until the war ended and he came home from prison.
I WILL turn your attention back to Resaca and relate my thrilling experience from that place to Greensboro, N.C., where we surrendered. General Joseph Johnston was entrenched around Resaca on the other side of the river. He was in a very close place, General Sherman in his front, and the river behind them, and only one bridge to cross on.
One morning, I thought I would go up on the hill near the river and see what was going on. While I was up there by myself, I saw a Federal column of Infantry four deep massing their forces to attack Johnston. I saw the Sixth Georgia Cavalry, led by Colonel Hart, make a charge across the river bottom to gain some breastworks on the bank of the river.
The Federals were behind some breastworks on the other side of the river, and saw our men coming and they raised up to pour a deadly fire into the regiment and the regiment dropped to the ground as the Federals fired on them. My heart fairly sank in me. I thought they had killed the last one of them. They all rose and went on into the breastworks, and when they got to the works, the Federals left their works in confusion, Colonel Hart jumped on top of the breastworks and waved his hat. There were several in the regiment wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Fane was mortally wounded, so that he died.
THE BATTLE OF RESACA was fought and both sides lost heavily, but they never broke Johnston's line. That night General Johnston retreated across the river and went in the direction of Calhoun. General Wheeler threw his cavalry in between Johnston and Sherman to cover his retreat until Johnston made his next stand.
We had a hard time. We were almost continually fighting. I carried fence rail making a temporary breastworks until I never wanted to see another fence rail.
A man by the name of Bob Smith that came to our company as a recruit, told the boys that he would be killed the first fight he got into. They laughed at him and told him that was all a notion to think that, but you could not make him believe otherwise. Somewhere on the retreat from Resaca to Calhoun our company was standing in a group on a little knoll in a field waiting for the Federals, and Smith told Lieutenant Glasgo that if we had a fight there he would be killed.
Lieutenant Glasgo told Smith if he thought that as strong as he did he would go to the rear. He said no, the boys would say he was a coward. He stuck to his post. The Federals flanked around us through the woods and was almost in the field of our rear. We had to get out of there in a hurry. As we ran out, the Federals fired on us, and sure enough, Bob Smith fell from his horse the first fire, mortally wounded. We were in such a close place we could not carry him off the field, and he was left in the hands of the enemy. We learned that he died the next day. He was the only man who was hit.
WHEN WE FELL BACK to Calhoun, our company formed a line of battle in the lower edge of town and threw a heavy skirmish line in the town, and orders were given to reinforce the skirmish line. Bud Jenkins who belonged to my company was detailed to go on the skirmish line, and his brother Jim told him he would take his place and stepped to the front. A braver soldier never fired a gun than Jim Jenkins. After a while the skirmish line was ordered in, and we caught up with some infantry. The infantry didn't like the cavalry and as we passed along by them a fellow with his knapsack on his back looked up at me and said "You humped-back cavalry, you think you are fine. Show me some of your sort and I will show you some of mine."
Johnston made a partial stand at the Gravel House above Adairsville and formed a line of battle, our cavalry formed across a field behind a fence row and Cheateam's division of infantry came up and formed right behind us. Johnston and Sherman had a heavy artillery duel. We lay there the balance of the evening under a heavy fire of artillery. We had many killed and wounded. That evening I thought the sun would never go down. About a half an hour before the sun we were ordered back to our horses and went into camp that night.
Johnston fell back in the direction of Cassville, next morning our cavalry covered his retreat and we were skirmishing with them all day, and when we fell back to the McDow farm we built a temporary breastwork across the field with fence rails.
WHILE WE WERE WAITING the Federals, I went down to the McDow house and there I found Mrs. McDow standing in the smoke house door taking down fine hams cutting them up for the soldiers when I walked up she knew me and was glad to see me. Her two sons belonged to the same company that I did, after asking me about the boys she cut me about four pounds of ham and gave it to me. I was glad to get it for I was hungry. I thanked her and told her goodbye and went back to the breastworks.
We were ordered back to our horses and we went in the direction of Cassville, then orders came from General Wheeler to Lieutenant Gilbreath of our company to detail some men from his company to drive out all the surplus cattle from there to Cartersville. I was one that was detailed under Sergeant Neel, and we gathered up all the cattle that we could find and drove them out ahead of the army. At that time Johnston was entrenched at Cassville. When we got to Cassville and Kingston road with our cattle, the road was full of infantry and artillery moving towards Cassville, and it was sometime before we could get over or across the road. Sergeant Neel asked me if I could find a good place to put the cattle that night. I told him I could.
WE CAMPED in a half mile from my home and after we went into camp, I went up home and spent the night. My mother was so glad to see me she could not help crying with joy. And that night everything was in a perfect stir all night, people from Cassville was traveling all night getting what they could out ahead of the army. After a night's rest, I rose early next morning, saddled my horse and bid them all goodbye, and as I went out the gate, I met some soldiers coming in. I told them that it was hard to have to give up my home to the enemy, they seemed to sympathize with me. I went back to the camp, and we drove the cattle on to Cartersville and turned them over to the army butchers. Johnston gave up his position at Cassville and fell back across the river at Cartersville and burned the bridge behind him.
They gave us a little rest until Johnston made his next stand at New Hope, Dallas, and Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman advanced across the river and Johnston intercepted him at these three places, then the fighting was terrible. Wheeler's cavalry was busy guarding General Wilder's cavalry in a pouring rain on Noonday Creek on the right side of Kennesaw. We came very near capturing General Wilder when we was flanking around to attack him.
GENERAL WHEELER came very near losing his life by three of Wilder's cavalry that was out foraging, our advance guard captured them and they were brought back to General Wheeler. They had not been disarmed.
After Johnston held Kennesaw as long as he could, he fell back to Smyrna, and there made his next stand, our cavalry covering his retreat. General Wheeler placed a heavy skirmish line at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain and I was one of the skirmishers. I could see the Federals on top of the mountain watching us, then they threw out their skirmish lines and we had it hot and heavy from there to Smyrna.
During the day I came very near getting killed. I was walking along near the railroad, looking back I saw three Federals walking upon the railroad in about one hundred yards of me. I was in plain view of them, and as soon as they saw me they raised their guns and fired, as they fired, the toe of my boot caught my spur and I fell to the ground. When I fell they hollowed, they thought they had killed me, but they did not touch me. I jumped up grabbed my gun and ran into the woods out of their sight.
AFTER JOHNSTON gave up his position at Smyrna, he crossed the Chattahoocha River. Our cavalry covering his retreat again, and we were hard pressed. When we got to the river to cross on the pontoon bridge I thought that we would never get across on that little bridge and the Federals shelling us while we were crossing. After we got across we cut the bridge loose and let it swing around on our side. Then we formed line of battle behind breastworks on our side of the river, and the Federals on the other.
Sometimes we would get friendly and talk to each other across the river. One evening they would come down and play the band for us. And after they crossed the river, they flanked around us and drove us out of our positions, we fell back and lined up with Johnston around Atlanta, we were dismounted and placed in breastworks for some little time. While we were there, one day the Federals charged us three lines deep and drove us out of our works. There our Lieutenant Colonel Strickland was killed.
While we were around Atlanta our beloved Joseph E. Johnston was removed from his command and General Hood was put in his place. Then Hood began to lay his plan to attack Sherman and on the twenty-second of July the great battle was fought between Hood's army and Sherman and nothing was gained. Both sides lost heavily and they held their ground. Our cavalry fought the Twentieth Army Corps of Infantry of Sherman's army at Decatur, when we made that famous charge into the town of Decatur. When we got into the public square three women ran out into the street and cheered us on, when General Allen saw them he ordered them to be taken into the cellar out of danger. I ran into the back yard of the hotel to get some water and while there, I saw two big pones of egg bread on a stove in the kitchen, and I ran in and grabbed them out, took them on my arm, and carried them on to my company. We drove the Federals out of Decatur and we captured a good many prisoners that was hid around in the town during that time.
GENERAL SHERMAN (he meant Stoneman) had gone on a raid to Macon, Georgia, and as soon as General Wheeler found it out he sent out our brigade and one Kentucky Regiment under General Iverson after him. We traveled on a forced march until we met him trying to make his way back. He had been repulsed at Macon by the Militia.
We met at a place called Sunshine Church. General Iverson then attacked him at once. Stowman (Stoneman) tried to break our lines by charging us mounted, but he failed to do so, then he dismounted his men and we had it hot and heavy. We pushed our line on him and driving him back until he made his last stand. We re-inforced our skirmish line and I was detailed to go on the skirmish line. We went through a skirt of woods into the edge of an old field, then we saw one of Sherman's officers coming towards us with a white flag tied to a stick.
The captain of the skirmish line ordered us to cease firing. The officer rode up to our line and asked where our commanding officer was. He was told that he was back with the line of battle. He said "send after him that General Stowman wishes to surrender." Colonel Cruise was commanding the fight, General Iverson was sick and not on duty, then General (Colonel) Cruise and his staff came riding up to meet the Federal officer. They saluted each other and the officer told Colonel Cruise that General Stowman wished to surrender. Colonel Cruise said "alright I will go in and receive him." They rode back together and we followed on.
WHEN WE GOT over the little hill there the Federals stood in line with their guns stacked in front of them and General Stowman sitting on his horse. Colonel Cruise rode up and saluted General Stowman. Stowman said that he preferred to surrender to General Iverson, but was refused by Colonel Cruise.
After Colonel Cruise received General Stowman we all formed up in the road. Stowman's Adjutant General saw Colonel Butler, Kentucky Regiment, sitting on his horse, and he said, "Hello, Colonel Butler, how do you do? I am glad to see you." They had went to school together. Then the Adjutant went around among the officers and got a pair of fine English navy pistols, and told him he would make a present of them to him. Colonel Butler said, "Thank you sir. I hope I will do good service with them the next fight I get into." The Adjutant said, "Don't talk to me that way." Colonel Butler said, "I don't mean if you and I come into contest, I mean among your men." Then he said "three cheers for Colonel Cruise," then General Stowman hung his head. Stowman was a fine looking officer. Then we marched all the prisoners back through the battle ground to General Iverson's headquarters and put a strong guard around the prisoners for the night.
The next day we started for Macon, and on our trip we had nothing to eat but roasting ears. We would stop by a corn field, go in and gather roasting ears, Federals and all, then we would build up a fire and lay them and eat them all. The soldiers that were with us will remember that well and when we got to Macon and delivered up the prisoners, we went back and joined General Wheeler.