by Comrade William Schulenberg
an address from the program given at the 9th reunion of the 37th Regiment O.V.V.I. at the Town Hall, St. Marys, Ohio - September 10, 1889
Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen:
As you are my guests today, I hardly know how to excuse myself from complying with your request for a speech, and inasmuch as a good soldier always obeys orders, I don’t feel like placing myself in the ranks of a bad one by declining.
I will therefore make an attempt to say something on the subject most appropriate on this occasion, “Recollections of the War”. I will endeavor to give you a dim outline of what will present itself to my mind; it is however unnecessary to go into the details of the causes and operations of the war for that is a matter of history. But let us reflect for a moment upon the stirring times of 1861 to 1865.
In 1861 the rebellion for the overthrow of this government and nation culminated in the most terrible civil war ever known. The loyal people of all sections combined into one common mass of patriots to preserve at all hazards the Union. Citizens of every political opinion rallied to the flag when the echoes of the guns of Fort Sumpter were heard in the north and Stars and Stripes were flung from windows and housetops.
We were of the million and a half of brave hearts who donned the federal blue in 1861 resolved to brave death and hardships for the charter of liberty our fathers had bequeathed to us. How few of us remain, but how well do we remember those stirring times when the fond mother, the devoted wife and sister, though their hearts were torn with anguish, gave us the son, the husband and brother to be sacrificed upon the altar of their country. The boy of tender age, the young man just on the verge of manhood, old men and gray sires, poor and rich, the clerk, the attorney, the artisan as well as the sturdy yeoman of the forest, all rallied to the defense of our common cause for the preservation of the Union.
In taking up the narrative of personal recollections of the War, beginning with the Battle of Missionary Ridge, at which point Comrade Kountz concluded, I will go over a small portion of the same ground for the reason that the most active part I took in the attack on Missionary Ridge began with crossing the river the night before the attack.
To effect the crossing, it became necessary to make a detail of men from the different regiments, of the 15th "C" (Company C), who, in the opinion of the officers, had some experience in handling a boat. For the purpose of rowing the pontoons with the troops across, our detail consisted of myself and comrades, Christian and Fred Roettger. The pontoons were taken overland, under command of Major Hipp, on wagons to the little Chickamauga River and hidden from the view of the enemy across the river.
The undertaking was a daring one, subject to many dangers, and to many it appeared preposterous and foolish that it should be undertaken at all, for they could not believe that it was possible for us to cross the river unobserved by the Rebels and that any of the occupants of the boats would ever step upon the Rebel shore alive, except as a prisoner. But they were mistaken and those who undertook it had the capability to successfully carry it out.
Everything being in readiness, we embarked upon the pontoons and for two nights kept our positions in them, awaiting orders to move, which we did on the third night, with Major Hipp in the lead and we following with the 55th Illinois Regiment and other regiments on board.
Rowing down to the mouth of the little Chickamauga, we entered the Tennessee and crossed about five miles below under cover of the night, with the result as already described by Comrade Kountz, also the attack and its consequences, up to the time of his being wounded and brought out.
The battle continued in all its fury and the heavy cannonading soon set the leaves on the ground afire and burned alive some of the unfortunate comrades who were wounded and unable to escape the terrible doom that stared them in the face. When the fight had somewhat subsided from exhaustion of both armies, we began to look around for the missing ones of our company and found quite a number unaccounted for, who we naturally supposed were wounded and lying near the Rebel works among the burning leaves. My brother was among the missing ones.
I, in company with Comrades Herbst and Meyer, after disarming ourselves of our guns at the suggestion of Major Hipp, re-entered the battlefield in search of our missing comrades. We cautiously advanced toward the Rebel works, using the standing timber as much as possible for protection. To the credit of the Rebels, even in this hour of excitement, they remembered that we were on a mission of humanity. As soon as they observed that we were unarmed and the work in which we were engaged, one of the Rebel officers called to us and invited us to advance, promising us that no harm should befall us as long as we came unarmed and for the purpose of removing our wounded comrades. He passed the orders along the line of his men in our front not to fire upon any who were thus engaged.
We took the officer at his word and advanced unmolested and brought out as many as we could find. They kept their promise well. In the meantime, while I was thus engaged, our missing comrades having all been found, were attending to the wounded whom they had carried to a place of safety in a deep ravine below the ridge, out of reach of the Rebel bullets.
The fight continued for several days and finally the enemy, commanded by General Bragg, under the cover of the night after first destroying their stores, retreated and left us masters of the field. Only then did I learn the extent of the damage done, which far exceeded my estimate. I probably never would have known what horrors and sufferings resulted from the Battle of Missionary Ridge had it not been for a circumstance with which I became connected the next morning after the escape of the Rebels.
When orders were given to pursue them at once, I was requested by Major Hipp to proceed to a certain place designated by him to look for his spy glass which he had left hanging on a fence near the battlefield during the fight the day before. He and his orderly were busy preparing for the march in pursuit of the Rebels. I proceeded on my errand and approached an open field beyond a strip of timber, through which I was making my way. That field presented to my view a scene in which all the horrors of war were depicted in all its details and one that I have more often recalled to my mind than anything to which I was an eyewitness during the whole war.
There was spread out before me several acres of the field, covered with dead and dying soldiers who had been gathered from the battlefield by a large force of men detailed for that purpose. A number of the detail were engaged in digging long deep trenches, in each of which some 40 or 50 were laid to rest. Others were preparing them for burial and tying cards to them for future reference, on which their name, company, and regiment were written, if known. Among them were a number yet alive who had been left upon the field for dead or had for the time being been abandoned by the field physicians as hopeless cases to die upon the field, as they were overworked in attending to those who, in their opinion, had any show for life.
These poor comrades were lying prone upon their backs, some merely breathing and unconscious of the their fate, while others in their agony would at times roll over upon each other and bring forth heart-rending groans and prayers for death to relieve them.
As nothing could be done to relieve their suffering, I departed from the scene. I found the spy glass and returned to the regiment. A little later we were on the march in pursuit of the enemy with what was intended for three days ration, but for want of sufficient supply, we drew only a half ration of crackers and coffee. It was also recommended to reduce the weight of our knapsacks as much as possible to withstand the marching and, in consequence thereof, many of us carried nothing but a rubber and woolen blanket besides what we wore, which we afterwards regretted, for before we returned to where we could get supplies, we were nearer naked than clothed. Nor were we accompanied by a provision train as there was neither train nor provisions at the time of our starting to carry along, and we had to subsist upon what the countryside afforded and what little the enemy in their flight had been unable to carry off or destroy.
We caught up with a portion of Bragg's Army the first night and captured part of his provision train loaded with cornmeal which we appropriated to our own use, and for a short time the slapjack business flourished - as long as the cornmeal held out. After that our bill of fare was not noted for quality or quantity. With all the efforts of ourselves and our foraging party, who, by the way, were not slow in getting anything if it was anywhere to be had, we could hardly gather enough to keep soul and body together. At times we were so hungry and weak that we could not sleep for want of something to eat. One night a company of cavalry camped near us and when all apparently were asleep, I slipped up to one of their horses and robbed it of part of its feed - an ear of corn - and made a meal of it which enabled me to sleep the balance of the night.
With all our hardships and fatigue, we managed to keep up with the trailing of the Rebels and frequently had to urge them a little, but they managed to keep far enough ahead to prevent any serious conflict.
The incidents on the route were many, but not of a noteworthy nature. The weariness of our march was at times broken by the good-naturedness of some of the men and officers by instituting a little wholesome sport to drive away the blues whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Prominent among them was General Morgan L. Smith. On one occasion when riding at the head of our column, he stopped short, commanded "Halt, stack arms and open ranks", rode through the center, and informed us that a hand to hand combat was awaiting us within a few minutes and to get ourselves in readiness at once - that he had spied a Rebel in a little thicket ahead of us whom he wanted captured and that he was positive that he would resist capture. And, as he wanted him alive, we were to surround the thicket without arms to prevent anyone from shooting him. We deployed as skirmishers, closing in on the center, where he had preceded us and pointed out to us a little gray squirrel on a little sapling surrounded by numerous other little saplings with no large trees nearby by which he could make his escape. We began to chase the so-called Rebel from sapling to sapling, and finally after a good deal of yelling and stone and club throwing, the squirrel dropped to the ground and was as quickly picked up alive by one of the comrades. One of the men asked the General how he knew the squirrel to be a Rebel. He replied, "What's the matter with you, can't you tell by the uniform he wears?"
We again took up our march with new spirits and at night pitched our blankets, for tents we had none, in and around the barnyard of a farmer. The old fellow sized us up and no doubt concluded that the way we eyed the hen house, there was danger that his remaining chickens might be persuaded to desert him during the night unless something was done to prevent our coming in contact with them, and at once he attempted to play the Union racket by claiming to be a Union man and entitled to have his property protected. He inquired of me to whom he must apply for a guard during our stay. I referred him to General Smith who just then came riding by. He halted the General and, after a great deal of saluting and bowing, he stated his case.
The General listened very attentively for a minute and then replied in his rough manner, "What! Fight and guard you both?" "No Sir, I am a Union man." "Union, hell", replied the General, "you are all Union men when you want protection and when your cussed Rebels are not about." "Please, General, and only protect my chickens. My wife is sick and likes nothing better than chickens." "Don't doubt it", replied the General. "If there is anything my boys like better than chickens, it is more of them. Is that not so, boys?" addressing himself to us who were standing nearby. And we of course replied in the affirmative. The guard was not furnished and how the chickens fared, you can better imagine than I can tell you.
We followed the enemy to within a few miles of Knoxville, Tennessee, where General Burnside had been exchanging salutes with the Rebel General Songstreet, who in the meantime had attacked Knoxville and was repulsed with great slaughter on the 28th of November, I think, after which he withdrew two days before we arrived to relieve General Burnside.
General Sherman and other officers rode into Knoxville and, finding it in full possession of our forces under Burnside, and the enemy gone, ordered a return, and the about-face march was begun. On our return from Knoxville, our course led us over a portion of the Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee and we again had to subsist on what the countryside afforded, which, however, was no improvement over our previous route. A pint of cornmeal a day was a large average which made about a half dozen small slapjacks without lard or anything.
The roads were rough and rocky and our footgear began to give out and our clothes compared favorably with __asby's suit after he deserted the Union army and joined the Rebels, who exchanged his new blue suit for one of gray, consisting chiefly of holes, with here and there a rag around them - very appropriate for the summer season, but rather airy at the time, as it was then late in the fall - December, now. We finally arrived at Chattanooga almost more naked than clothed and more nearly starved than overfed.
The weather was intensely cold and the ground frozen, and it became impossible for those without good footgear to proceed any further overland. A number of pontoons were anchored at Chattanooga, upon which the footsore were embarked and taken down the river to the mouth of Mud Creek and up the creek to Bellefonte, Alabama, I being again detailed as one of the oarsmen.
At Bellefonte, we were again joined by the rest of the army who had taken the overland route. Here we went into camp without shelter of any kind and nothing to eat. This was on New Year's night of 1864 - so well remembered by the people of the North as the coldest night that ever opened the door of a New Year. We spent the night in the open air hugging our little campfires, blinded with the smoke of the green wood that we had to use for want of any other.
The next day we made good use of our lungs in yelling for hardtack and sowbelly whenever a commanding General came in sight, but it was of little avail. The officers tried their best to get provisions, but were unable to get any more than enough to keep soul and body together.
The second day our regiment was ordered to proceed up the railroad some 8 or 10 miles to pull down by hand a cracker train that, for want of a locomotive, could not otherwise be brought down. The order was received with great delight and it was obeyed as readily.
The 37th Regiment was never very slow in charging upon anything, much less a cracker train, but it was not my lot to accompany the regiment on the pleasant expedition, having been detailed for picket duty near the camp. The regiment returned with the cracker train a little after dark the same day and the distribution of the crackers began soon thereafter and amounted to 1½ crackers to a man - 3 crackers for each two men when the roll was called for drawing our ration.
I found that my brother, Ben, and Comrade William Wiedeman were missing. I made due inquires of what had become of them, but no one knew anything about them anymore than that they had been in ranks all day and were not missed until after dark. I drew my brother's portion of the crackers and returned to my post on picket duty.
An hour or so later, I heard the approach of someone cautiously coming through the timber towards me. The night was dark and nothing could be seen five feet away. I waited until the object came within reach of my gun and, locating it by the sound of the breaking of twigs and underbrush through which the object was coming, drew up my rifle and commanded, "Halt, who comes there?" The answer came quick, but not in its usual form of "A friend" with the countersign, but instead, "Yes, who comes there. If you only had something to eat, you wouldn't be so particular about who comes there." I recognized the voice of my lost brother and allowed him to advance without the countersign. He was accompanied by Comrade Wiedeman, each bearing on his back some dark object which they dropped at my feet, and upon examination, I found to be a box of crackers that had in some mysterious way deserted the cracker train and hid itself in the rubber blankets. That night was spent in surprising our inner man by supplying sufficient to his want.
We soon afterwards again broke camp and proceeded further and stopped at Larkinsville, Alabama, as we supposed for the winter, and began to build shelter of whatever material we could find. Some of us were quite comfortably fixed when we were again called upon to abandon them after a short stay.
During our stay there, we made a scouting tour among the mountains of the other side of the Tennessee River, the home of the moonshiners, and spent a few days among them, inspecting their stills and the proof of their high wines, which soon proved strong enough to knock the pins out from under some of the boys - so much so that they imagined they heard the command of "Lay down" and governed themselves accordingly. When the command was given to fall in, some of them had fell in so deep that it was difficult to get them to rise to fall in again.
General Smith came along and amused himself by assisting in raising them by an application of ear rubbing. Wherever he found one that he could not persuade to get up, he would have him raised to a sitting position and have two men to rub his ears with all their might, and if the first application failed, he would order the second, which would generally bring him to his feet. The next day, while stopping on the wayside for a little rest, the General rode up and inquired how we felt after the charge on the high wines the day before. He was told that we were ready to make another like charge. He then asked if we would all re-enlist and was told if he would stay and guarantee that the high wine would hold out, we would all re-enlist & see the game out.
This was at the time efforts were made to re-enlist by regiments whose term of service were drawing to a close. Shortly afterwards we left Larkinsville for Cleveland, Tennessee, where a large majority of the regiment re-enlisted for three years more, or 'during the war'.
While at Cleveland, I was informed that, in conformity with an order from the War Department, I, with Major Hipp and three others of the Regiment, had been assigned as transferors of substitutes from the State of Ohio to the seat of war and to hold myself in readiness to report to Columbus, Ohio for that purpose. But before we started northward we again returned to Larkinsville, Alabama, where we shortly afterwards took leave from the Regiment.
We arrived at Columbus in due time and reported for duty, and the next day I started with a carload of substitutes for Chattanooga, Tennessee over the same route over which I had come. Upon my arrival, I learned that the 37th Regiment had passed through on their way home for a 30-day furlough and before my return would be enjoying the happy welcome among the dear ones at home. I longed to join them and share in their happiness.
Upon my return to Columbus I at once made application for a few days leave of absence. I stated my case to Major Skiles, the Commandant of Tod Barracks, who informed me that it would give him pleasure to grant my request if there was any possibility to do so but under the state of affairs, it was impossible. The barracks were overcrowded with substitutes who were sorely needed in the field and he had not force enough to transfer them as rapidly as they should be. He had already assigned me a squad with which I was to leave that night and said that perhaps upon my return the chances for a short furlough would be better, and so I was obliged to content myself with imaginations of what a glorious time the boys were having at home.
Finally after making three trips south, I obtained a 3-day furlough, one day going home, one to remain, and one to return. When I arrived home, the comrades were preparing to return to the field for duty, their 30 days having expired and having enjoyed their furlough in a royal manner.
I was heartily welcomed at home and enjoyed my 1-day furlough among friends and comrades with great satisfaction, and again bid them Adieu and returned to Columbus and entered upon my duties of transferring substitutes to all parts of the seat of war.
On the return of the Regiment to the field, Major Hipp stopped at Columbus for the purpose of getting himself and the rest of us released from transferring substitutes and to return to the Regiment in the field. He succeeded insofar as himself and the other three were concerned who happened to be in Columbus at the time, and they returned to the Regiment. I, being away on a trip south, was left behind and on my return, Major Skiles refused to release me so I continued on the force for nearly seven months, always on the go, night and day, after which I was released and assigned to a desk in the forwarding office at Tod Barracks, Columbus, Ohio, which position I held to the end of my term of service, which ended with the close of the war.
Comrades, I am pleased and happy and I am sure you are too, for it cannot be otherwise, that we have been permitted to meet once more under more pleasant circumstances, with the knowledge that the friendship formed in camp and cemented by deeds of valor and heroism on the battlefield, have not been forgotten in these many years that have since passed, and will not as long as life lasts. We were comrades in scenes that tried the souls and courage of us all. We were associates in a struggle that gave new birth to the Republic. Is it any wonder, then, that the men who were soldiers in the days when they were the idol of the people, because in their hands lay the safety of the country, now look back to those exciting days with pride. We would not be true men if we forgot the past. We were comrades then and we are comrades now, and will be until the roll is complete beyond the skies. We are growing old and have no longer the smell of powder in our nostrils, but we are as ready now to share our last crust with a needy comrade as we were to divide the last bit of hardtack when the supply train failed to come in on time.
As Veterans of the war, we are proud of the grandeur and progress of our country, and as we gather around our comrades here tonight, who has a better right to recall the scenes of camp, campaigns, and battle than we who by our united efforts made the present prosperity of our fellow citizens not only a possibility but a solemn and glorious fact. Let us hope that the peace so dearly bought has come to stay and that the men of the North and South, with true brotherly feeling, will stand shoulder to shoulder in support of our magnificent Republic ready to carry the musket and the sword in united strength against any foreign foe that may dare to menace our common and glorious flag, the only one for which the country has any room - "Old Glory".