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In Their Own Words

September 05, 1864

Civil War Letter Told of Battle, Destruction, and Disease

From Atlanta, Col. Fredrick Winkler of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry wrote his wife about a variety of matters, including preliminary news about the Battle of Jonesboro:

“I thought likely, at the very moment I should commence to write, orders to move would come, and so they did. We are now fixing up B camp. We expected that our brigade was all to return to Turner’s Ferry, but we have found that we are all to come here; the balance of the troops were to come down in the afternoon and, as the Major could attend to them, I did not go back but concluded to find quarters for the night in the city. After some troubles I found a nice looking house, where they gave me some supper and we talked a while. Such a nice room as they gave me it is the first time I have been in one since I left home in April, but, when I went to bed, I found feathers too soft for me; I think I sleep better on a little bunk in a tent. We have reliable information now that there has been severe fighting in the neighborhood of Jonesborough, and it would seem that such a whipping the rebels never got before. If reports are true, our prisoners count by thousands, and the rebel dead and wounded that remain on the field are said to exceed all precedent. They burned two trains, consisting of eighty cars, loaded with arms and ammunition the night before we took the city. There was a good deal of powder and many filled shells on the trains which exploded and were thrown all over the neighborhood; besides a large number of small arms, there were also two batteries of twelve-pounders I exhumed from the ruins. We also found five very large siege guns in the city, which had only been brought up from Augusta two days before, and a number of smaller ones around in the city, all spiked. Their evacuation was certainly very precipitate. I think the military prospect is brightening and Mr. Lincoln will be re-elected, but, even if McClellan should be chosen, unless he repudiates every act and word of his past life, his course cannot be essentially different. It is quite remarkable how diametrically opposed McClellan’s course has been to that advocated by the present peace faction of the Democratic party. They clamored a good deal about arbitrary arrests; he arrested the whole Maryland Legislature, when deliberating the good of the State. I believe they are opposed to a draft - to being drafted at least; he urged a draft upon the Secretary of War three years ago. They want peace at any terms; he insists upon submission on the part of the South to federal authority. I do not think General Howard was ever seriously thought of as a Democratic candidate. He is a strong anti-slavery man and a staunch supporter of the administration. The fortifications around Atlanta was indeed very extensive; to surround them completely, would have taken an immense army, and the way to get them out was doubtless the one finally adopted - to move upon its communications. This left two courses open to Hood, to retreat at once towards Augusta, or to meet General Sherman and stake the fate of the city, and perhaps his army, upon the result of a battle. He followed his pugnacious instincts and was badly beaten. It was doubtless Johnston’s intention not to risk a battle, but to abandon the city and save his army. Hood has fought four battles, one north, one east, and one west, and finally one south of the city, and raided on our railroad. He gained the satisfactory result of holding the city long enough to see a great portion of it devastated and then left it, his army broken, reduced and demoralized, and valuable stores of munitions of war left a prey to the flames. We are encamped some ways out of the city, should think a mile or two, and the woods are so wild no one would suspect a city near. It is reported that Rousseau gave the raiding Wheeler a very severe threshing near Talona and took a big number of forces from him. I hope he did, and trust that the prisoners taken will be retaliated upon for rebel outrages upon our negro troops. When we take those very parties prisoners who committed those outrages, it is certainly just to inflict the punishment due them for the protection of those poor negroes who have gone into our army. I have not been in the city since the first day I came down. One curious thing is the bomb proofs we find in almost every yard; they are holes like cellars sunk into the ground, with a narrow entrance covered by an enormous heap of earth, with a narrow pipe or chimney through it for a ventilator. Many families sleep in these bomb proofs for weeks and pass the greater part of their days in them too. By far the greater portion of the inhabitants have left. That portion of the city nearest our lines is nearly demolished. We received an order from General Sherman last night, stating that the army had accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction of Atlanta and would occupy the city and neighborhood until another campaign should be planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States; then adds, the General in Chief will give notice when the movement will begin, and will establish headquarters in Atlanta and afford the army an opportunity to have a full month’s rest with every chance to organize, receive pay, replenish clothing and prepare for a fine winter’s campaign. Thus the General in Chief tells us of his plans for the future; it is well that he does, it will keep many from cherishing idle, demoralizing dreams of rest when there is work ahead. I expected another campaign this year. It is right that there should be one. The rebel army in its present demoralized state ought to be followed up, and the next three months certainly offer very good campaigning weather. I am ready for my part. If I could start out with four hundred muskets, as I did four months ago, it would be more gratifying. Three officers and thirty-two men killed, four officers and one hundred and fifty-three men wounded, are the casualties of the regiment in the last campaign; besides there is a large number of men sick in many of the large hospitals. That terrible army disease, scurvy, has made inroads upon us. This ever unchanging army ration is too bad. In Virginia we got potatoes, dried fruit, etc. - here in such diminutive quantities - I hope we will get some little extras for the men during this month of rest, for we have less than two hundred men fit for duty now.”

Source: Civil War Letters of Major Fredrick C. Winkler, in 26th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers Home Page