James Calvert, Soldier

William Calvert 1792-1859 > James Calvert 1844-1933 > Jennie Calvert Jackson 1881-1968 > Vienna Golden Jackson Long 1910-1984

Life Before

The Chickasaw tribe owned land in south-central Tennessee (area 64 in the map below) by treaty with the United States. Fort Hampton was established in 1809 in northern Alabama to protect the Chickasaw from illegal incursion by settlers.


In 1810, the commander of Fort Hampton sent a letter to a group of settlers, telling them that they must leave:

FELLOW CITIZENS – You have been informed that the President of the United States (James Madison) has ordered, that the Indian lands shall be cleared from all settlers.

The uncertainity that existed whether the tract of country called Doublehead’s reserve was such Indian lands as is to be cleared of settlers, according to that order, is now removed by additional instructions from the commanding general, and from the War Department.

You are therefore notified to remove from the Indian lands, (in which description is included the tracts called Doublehead’s and Melton’s reserves) before the expiration of the month of November.

This allowance of time is deemed reasonable to enable you to remove with your effects and crops of the present year. It is hoped that you will avail yourself of the indulgence.

What I have written fulfills the duty of giving you notice to remove. What I shall add, does not proceed from any instruction I have received, but from a desire to convince you that any inconvenience you may experience is not to be ascribed to the government, which pursues invariably the happiness of its people; and in this instance pursues the course necessary to guard your peace.

In 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation, describing the Chickasaw boundary line to be “from the most eastern waters of the Elk, thence to the Tennessee at an old field where a part of the Chickasaws formerly lived; this line to be run so as to include all the waters of the Elk river;” and forbidding all persons to purchase, accept, agree, or treat for, with the said Indians, directly or indirectly, the title or acceptation of any lands held by them.

By a treaty entered into in 1801, between the United States and the Chickasaws, the aforesaid proclamation is recognized as setting forth the lands, hunting grounds, rights and property of the Chickasaws; and is provided that the President shall take measures to assist them to preserve their rights; of which he is made the judge. That tribe has since ceded to the United States a part of the country described; but not the lands whereon you reside.

Thus you perceive the claim of the Chickasaws, which was declared good by President Washington, has since been solemnly recognized by a treaty, which binds the President to protect them from encroachment.

Perhaps you will reply, that by a treaty between the United States and the Cherokees entered into in 1806, the tract you reside on was reserved, “to be considered the common property of the Cherokees,” who then lived thereon, and that you have purchased from them. But you will observe that a treaty between the United States and the Cherokees could not destroy the acknowledged rights of the Chickasaws. The United States have indeed by this last treaty promised to settle the claims of the Chickasaws in such a manner as will be equitable, and will secure to the Cherokees the title to the said reservation. This they have not been able to do; and the Chickasaw claim remains in full force. Nor are the United States, by their promise to secure the land to the Cherokees, bound to extinguish the Chickasaw claim in favor of an unauthorized colony of their citizens, forming an independent body politic. By purchasing or leasing from the Indians, you have assumed a right claimed exclusively by the government.

The United States are bound by treaty to protect the Chickasaws from encroachment on their lands. The President has probably been called on so to do. Treaties are laws; and he is bound to see the laws faithfully executed. Your removal has therefore become indispensable. I hope you will not impose on us the painful task of enforcing it. Such is not the kind of service we desired to perform, when we assumed the uniform of our country. But we have promised to obey the orders we shall receive from the President, and we will do so.

Nevertheless, have hope. If you have rights, they will be respected. Your government, distinguished for its fidelity even to the weakest Indian tribe, will not be unjust to those who prove themselves faithfull citizens.

Your friend and fellow citizen, ALEX SMITH
Col. Rifle Regt, Commanding Fort Hampton, Oct 28th 1810

The settlers presented a petition to the federal government, pleading for more time:

The greater part of our crops of every description are yet in the fields; our flocks wandering in the woods, our debts unliquidated and uncollected; your fellow citizens laboring under sickness. There is not one family out of twenty, we will venture to say, is exempt from this affliction. Few waggons in the reserve for the removal of citizens; few boats to be got, and none yet prepared, from the recentness of the orders to affect the same. Our situation is truly distressing. If there is no mitigation of the orders, in addition to our calamities and sacrifices, we must inevitably lose the labors of the present year which are our principal dependence for support of our families. We shall be turned adrift into the wide world, to seek a scanty maintenance for ourselves, wives and little children. To what extremity, and where the storms of fate will drive us, the God of heaven knows. The foxes have holes, the fowls of the air have nests, but we have not where to lay our heads.

To hear the child cry for bread and the parent not to have wherewithal to supply the calls of nature, must be the situation of many of your fellow citizens without an extension of the orders.

Your fellow citizens know you are an agent of the government, and that you are bound to obey. And in consequence of that your fellow citizens will pledge their honors, and every thing that is sacred, that they will afford you nothing of a disagreeable nature in consequence of their removal. They will obey you promptly.

The only thing we crave, ask and pray for, is indulgence to effect the same; in obtaining of which, your petitioners will ever feel themselves in duty bound, to pray for your future welfare while in life.

This petition was presented to Colonel Smith on November 6, and the families were granted an extension until January 1st to remove themselves from the Chickasaw land.

One of the signers of the petition was Joseph Calvert. He and his two brothers Jonathan and William Jr, and their four sisters Sarah, Polly, Peggy and Nancy, all moved across the Tennesssee border to Madison County, Alabama.

Six years later, the Chickasaw lands in southern Tennesseee were ceded to the US for $120,000, in a treaty signed by Major General Andrew Jackson and Chickasaw leader Chinnubby. Fort Hampton was abandoned in 1817.

William Calvert Jr (1792-1859) relocated from Madison to Winston County, Alabama, and had more than 25 children with his wives Sarah Wright (1792-1840) and America Lay (1819-1863). Several died young during typhoid epidemics, so the family moved from Ryan’s Creek up to Brushy Pond Mountain to escape the malady.

William died of typhoid fever in September 1859, leaving his widow America to run the farm and raise the children. James was the oldest son at home when his father died.


Following Lincoln’s election in November 1860, the Alabama legislature approved a Secession Ordinance on January 11 1861:

Winston County was populated mostly by poor farmers who did not own slaves, and they were mostly opposed to secession. C. C. Sheats was their representative at the Secession Convention: he voted against it, and spent most of the war in a Confederate prison due to his Unionist position. Winston became known as “The Free State of Winston” due to its Unionist populace.

The Confederacy’s First Conscription Act, passed April 26 1862, made any white male between 18 to 35 years old liable to three years of military service. On September 27, the Second extended the age limit to 45 years.The Third, passed February 17 1864, changed this to 17 to 50 years old, for service of an unlimited period. The “20 Negro Law” exempted men who oversaw 20 or more slaves.


William Calvert’s oldest son Robert (1819-1901) lived on Ryan’s Creek when the war began, and was 42 when the 1st Conscription Act was passed. He was married to Mary “Cricket” Moon, who was the daughter of Nathaniel Moon, a Cherokee who fought in the War of 1812 with General Andrew Jackson. Robert and his neighbors were Unionists, and to make sure that he wouldn’t be conscripted they elected him to the exempt office of Justice of the Peace.

RobtCalvert MaryMoon
Robert and Mary Moon Calvert

He was the only local blacksmith, fed the community during the privations of war, and aided Mossbacks, which was the term for Southerners who hid in swamps, caves and woods to avoid conscription.

In the summer of 1862, James Calvert was one of the Mossbacks in Winston County. The 51st Illinois Infantry arrived at Decatur, Alabama in August 1862, 50 miles north of Brushy Pond.

Henry Buck of the 51st wrote home:

We are in Decatur now, and I am disappointed. It is a small uninteresting place – old and very dilapidated. There are but three fine buildings in the town – the building occupied by the Decatur Branch of the “State Bank of Alabama”, the Odd Fellows Hall, and a Secesh Quarter Master’s Residence. Its location, however, is lovely – on very high ground on the bank of the beautiful Tennessee and is remarkable for its healthfulness.

The Tennessee river here is about a hundred rods wide. Huge, white stone piers rise like ghosts from the stream, the only remains of the splendid railroad bridge that General Mitchell destroyed. About a mile from here, across the river is the junction of this road with the one from Nashville.

Boats of negroes have followed us off. What to do with them is a question that troubles us. Their droll plantation songs and dances furnish entertainment every evening.

James joined Company D of the 51st at Decatur on September 3, three months before his 18th birthday. Surgeon Thomas Magee and Captain Theodore Brown certified that he was free of bodily defects and entirely sober. His neighbors John Humphries (19), Jasper West (19) and John West (21) joined on the same day. All six of his uncles (brothers of his mother America) joined the Union: Lewis Lay (38), Thomas Lay (35) and Hardy Lay (32) joined the 1st Alabama US Calvary, and John Lay (25), Josiah Lay (19) and Alexander Lay (18) joined the 51st Company D.

Someone else who joined the 51st in Decatur was James Stovall, a slave owned by Peter Stovall of Decatur. Peter was not just his owner, he was also his father. On August 3, he requested permission from his father to attend church: instead, he crossed the Union line and joined Company F as a cook.

Illinois regiments had 10 companies, each with 82 privates, 1 waggoner, 2 musicians, 8 corporals, 4 sergeants, 1 first sergeant, 1 second lieutenant, 1 first lieutenant, and 1 captain. The regimental staff contained 2 principal musicians, 1 hospital steward, 1 commissary sergeant, 1 quartermaster sergeant, 1 sergeant major, 1 chaplain, 2 assistant surgeons, 1 surgeon-major, 1 quartermaster, 1 adjutant, 1 major, 1 lieutenant colonel, and 1 colonel.

Regimental musicians were usually young, and played the drum or fife as the troops marched into battle. After battles, they served as orderlies in the field hospitals.



The 51st began the 145 mile march to Nashville, Tennessee the day after James joined.

Since James couldn’t write home to enemy territory, we rely on the memoirs, letters and diaries of his fellow soldiers in the 51st and companion regiments, to follow their lives in the war.

Edward Burns of Chicago was married with 2 children, and enlisted in Company K at the age of 32. From his diary:

Sept. 5th. We marched 23 miles. Weather very hot.

Saturday, 6th, passed through Athens, Al., marched 15 miles. Went into camp at 2 P.M. Here 2 Brigade joined us.

Sunday, 7th, whole Division started on, passing through Guerilla Hollow, The 16th Ill. Regt. was fired on, wounding 4 men. Forded Elk River, and passed through Elkton. Marched 25 miles.

Monday, 8th, passed through Pulaski City. Met more guerillas, killed one, took one prisoner. No one hurt on our side. Marched 19 miles.

Tuesday, 9th, passed through Lindenville and Columbia. Guerillas attack our rear guard, coming into Columbia, and killed one of our men of the 42nd Ill., who returned the fire, and made them pay dear for it. Killed and wounded several, and captured a wagon loaded with flour and whiskey. Marched 22 miles.

Wednesday, 10th, this morning the Rebels pitched into our rear again, and captured a company wagon of the 14th Mich. Regt. We had to open one of our batteries on them, before they gave us any peace. Marched 16 miles.

Thursday, 11th, passed through Franklin. In this place we were greeted by the ladies with sweet smiles and Union flags. We marched 23 miles today, and camped within 2 miles of Nashville, our feet tired and sore. Rainy night.

James would see Franklin again in 26 months.

William Gardner was an English immigrant in Company D, who wrote a florid account of his war experience, and noted James joining the company:

The final company of Blue halt at Decatur on the margin of the Tennessee near relics of an iron bridge, the stone piers sole sentinels of the desolation of war and a monument of the vandalism of General Mitchell of astronomic fame and meteoric ramblings. The splendor of a month’s sojourn here dimmed once by the southerners’ severing hardtack communications with Corinth. In reprisal we levy corn, sheep and chickens from adjacent farmers. The quartermaster tenders Uncle Sam’s receipt to the involuntary contributors and endeavors to assuage the consternation evinced by the victims of this foray upon this discourteous invasion of their poultry precincts.

Both, from the presence of literature and the absence of vindictiveness from the neighbors (seven Alabamians joining the company), was derived so beneficent a combination as to class these halcyon days in allegory as “rose blossoms on the waste places,” as well as haply “the dawn of the golden fringed Day of Peace,” dispelling the noxious vapors of the tempest-frowned Night of Civil War.

A pontoon bridge is speedily constructed, the river Tennessee crossed dry shod, and with caution to avoid straggling (the fate of Colonel McCook in an ambulance emphasizing this counsel), Athens, of bitter memoirs, is soon reached, with unwelcoming gaze from the Athenians, vying with their prototypes as to ornamental shrubbery. Next, Pulaski, scowling with aversion to the Union (a counterpart, probably, of the Poles with regard to the Russian bear), thence Columbia the little and its tone-colored brethren as appertaineth to sovereigns of Columbia the great. Franklin, on Harpeth river, is now in view; its fine turnpike dotted with pretentious villas, and the omission of paying toll at the gate.

As the Bedouins of grey are hovering around, we soon obtain cantonments free from dust, in the outlying pastures of Nashville. This capital, diminutive as to size, was a very Titan for the Army of the Cumberland, who therein received its appelative. 

Oh, fair Nashville! Invulnerable to the furious torrents of Slavery, by staying them in the vortex of defeat. Potential hast thou been to reward some of thy quondam defenders. We greet thee, Oh, city of rocks! For thine imposing State House, Fort Negley and thy gun factory—our shelter of the by-gone, and land thy suburban mansions nestling in charming groves; the gentle windows of the season vibrating with the branches and the placid waters of the Cumberland laving thy feet. We hail thee as a city built upon the hills which cannot be hidden!

Nashville had been the first Confederate state capitol to fall to the Union army, surrendering on February 25 1862, when they awoke to see the ironclad USS Cairo docked and aimed at them.

USS Cairo at Nashville

The 51st marched in on September 15, and spent the next 3 1/2 months garrisoned there.


On November 6, John Lay died in Nashville Hospital #14 at the age of 25, one of 35,000 Union soldiers to die of typhoid fever.

Patients and nurse in Nashville hospital

General Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland marched 40 miles out of Nashville on December 26 1862, to confront General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Stone River near Murfreesboro. The 51st was in the 3rd division commanded by General Phil Sheridan, and in the brigade commanded by Colonel George Roberts.

Edwards Burns Diary:

Dec 24th. We got orders to march at daylight. We struck tents, packed up everything on the wagons, and started. Went about half a mile, and turned back to camp again. Order countermanded. This night we slept in the open air. Christmas morning we concluded we were not going to march, so we pitched our tents again and settled down for keeps.

Dec. 26th. This morning we struck tents again, packed all our baggage on the wagons, and sent it to Nashville, except our blankets and haversacks, as then we knew what was up. We marched to Nolensville, drove the Rebels from the place, with considerable loss on their side. We took one piece of artillery. Our loss, very light. We camped on a high mountain, two miles south of the town. Raining heavy all night.

William Gardner wrote about the march:

By the last Sunday in December, 1862, the corps halted near a planter’s homestead, in a radius of six miles from Murfreesboro.

Some indolently recline, others attack the smoke house of the aforesaid scion of chivalry and capture choice hams, others, more maliciously disposed, demolish the piano and mirrors, as the darkies aver that three sons of this house are members of Bragg’s forces.

The Battle of Stone River – December 31 1862 – January 3 1863

George Hoel of the 51st wrote home:

We left Camp Sheridan on the 25th and reached their picket lines and drove them in and then we went into camp. We had some skirmishing every day while we was on the road. We was very tired and it was a-raining and we had no blankets, nor we dare not have any fire. The next day we had to start to our day work without any thing to eat for we had none. Our teams had not come up yet.

The battle raged all day. It stopped about sundown, then we fell back and, not much to brag of, we got nothing to eat that night. The rebels had took all our teams and burned our provisions so we had to go to the field hungry. That was the hardest day’s fight that ever [?]. The fight lasted until the third day of the year. This was 5 days of fighting. On New Year’s day 16 of our company, me along with the rest of them, was out as skirmishers in advance. We took 85 privates and one lieutenant prisoners. I tell you the shots come like hail around us. When I saw that trees had them safe, then I jumped behind a tree and they shot ten shots in the tree and I shot as many at them. Then I thought I would get back to the rest. You had ought to have seen me run and dodge.

Lt Colonel Luther Bradley of the 51st wrote:

We remained in this point of woods for three hours exposed to a most destructive fire. We remained until the enemy were upon three sides of us with their artillery until our battery (Houghtaling’s) was silenced for want of ammunition and his horses all killed – until everything has left us (of our forces) upon either side – then Col Roberts being killed and the next senior col (Col Harrington) being mortally wounded, Col Bradley took command of the Brigade and we moved through the thicket coming out upon the Murfreesboro Pike a mile in the rear of our first position. Here the 51st and 27th were formed in line again and the work given us to do was to dislodge a force of the enemy who had got possession of a cedar thicket adjoining the road. We are told that everything depends upon regaining and holding this position. We move forward but upon the brow of the hill are met with a murderous fire. We protect ourselves as best we can behind rocks, etc., but the fire is more than the men can stand. We present an admirable target to the Enemy while he is not exposed. We retire behind the brow of the hill, face about – this time determined to charge them from their position. The men are now reckless mad – infuriated – this time we accomplish our work. We drive five Tennessee regiments from among the rocks across the cotton field through a cornfield taking about one hundred prisoners.

John Lucien McBride of Company D wrote to his mother:

We were ordered to charge on the rebs with loaded guns and unfixed bayonets which we did at our own risk and such a yell went up, at full speed we rushed on and routed them and such a scattering of men I never saw before, they ran every way. We poured our bullets into them so thick they dropped in every direction. The regt halted but I wished for spoils. I ran on about 20 rods and found 8 of them hid in a cave in the rocks. When I came up one of them was going to shoot me but I stepped behind an oak tree and was going to fire when they threw up their hands and they were mine. I took them to the Col. He sent me with them to Gen McCook where they were taken care of. I then joined the regt and they didn’t attack us again that day. The dead lay strewed over the ground. It began to rain and rained all night and the next day we were allowed no fire at all.

Four Generals were killed in the battle, and all three of Sheridan’s Brigades lost their commanding Colonels. Bradley would command the 51st for the rest of the war. Bragg tried new assaults on January 1-2, then finally began his retreat south on the night of January 3.

Luther Bradley 1822-1910
Stones River

Edward Burns Diary, between the Battles of Stone River and Chickamauga:

Monday, January 5 Today all is quiet, but we are short of rations on account of our train being destroyed on the 31st by the Rebels. The dead was buried on today, a duty which did not fall on me.

Saturday, January 17 Passed off quietly. We had a debate in the evening. Question was that the mariners compass is more beneficial to man than the printing press.

Thursday, January 29 I done my washing again. I had no money to pay a Negro for doing it, and I concluded I wouldn’t run in debt for it.

Sunday, February 15 This is most a salubrious morning, and after I got shaved and slicked up, me and Tabler and Thompson took a stroll in the woods. It made me feel all over homesick.

Saturday, February 21 This morning it commenced raining again, and we had to go on picket. Today I received intelligence of the death of my wife, for the first time.

Friday, March 20 A city of tents is a splendid city, all but the splendid, and that is a pity.

Friday, April 10 Tranquility reigns over the canvass city today. The woods begin to come out in their summer styles.

Monday, May 11 This morning very fine. We had Brigade Drill in the forenoon and Dress Parade in the afternoon. We was visited by some Chicago ladies.

Monday, May 18 On picket. I witnessed a Negro funeral. A very affecting exhibition of human feeling and affection. All quiet around the lines.

Monday, June 8 Today all is quiet. There is a death-like tranquility over this Army, a dreadful silence that is very oppressive, as if in anticipation of some terrible shock. May it be the death-crash of the whole Southern Confederacy.

Wednesday, July 1 This morning we marched into Tullahoma. The Rebs all left today. The prisoners keep coming in from every direction. They were 25 thousand strong at this point. Our Brigade was the first to march into the town. We are on half-rations for five days.

Monday, July 13 Today all is quietness and dullness in camp, with considerable heavy rain. Bragg lost about 15,000 of his troops during his retreat from Shelbyville. Our mounted infantry harassed them terribly. Heavy rain all day.

Monday, July 27 When this cruel war is over, and peace shall be restored, we’ll return to our happy homes, to meet our friends once more, the friends that love us dearly. We return from the war, to go again no more.

Wednesday, August 19 On picket today again. Weather very warm. There’s a little bug here they call Chiggers. They are awful to bite.

While James was marching through Tennessee with the 51st, his mother America died in Brushy Pond at the age of 44, leaving his sister Martha to raise the younger children. She devoted herself to this, and never married.

By August Bragg had settled his Army in Chattanooga in eastern Tennessee. On September 8 he was forced to evacuate south into Georgia by the approaching Army of the Cumberland, which marched into Chattanooga unopposed on September 9. Chattanooga was a town of 2500 which had been formed only 23 years before the war, when the Cherokee were removed. It was a strategic center of railroad lines, and the entrance to mountain passes into Georgia.

The Battle of Chickamauga – September 19-20 1863

Rosecrans pursued Bragg south into Georgia. Bragg turned to force the fight at the Chickamauga river 20 miles south of Chattanooga, and the battle began on September 19.

The 51st fought at Vineard’s Field on the 19th, where they suffered 90 casualties in the first 10 minutes of the battle. Col Bradley led his men into the fight, and he and his adjutant Lt Otis Moody were both shot. Bradley walked off the field, Moody was carried off and died 6 hours later.

Lt Otis Moody

CHICAGO TRIBUNE – Commissary Sergeant Allen Grey went into the battle and did excellent service. He had found a kitten in a deserted camp at Murfreesboro, which he took along with him on the march, and with pussy perched on his shoulder he went into the fierce fight.

John McBride was killed on the 19th, and Chaplain Lewis Raymond wrote to his mother:

Dear Madam: With a sad heart I announce to you that your brave and noble boy is a martyr on the altar of his country. He fell shot through the head from the center of his forehead while shouting and urging his comrades on to the severe fight. The fire in which he fell brought down in a few minutes over 90 of our brave men. Col Bradley, Lieut Simons, Lieut Buck, Adjt Moody, Adjt Hall, Sergt Major Casey are among the officers that fell. Lieut Simons and Buck are killed, the others wounded. Capt Theodere Brown Co. C slightly, others severely. Several will lose a leg some an arm. Since Saturday one of the most terrible battles has been raging that history ever recorded. Our army were obliged to fall back and many of the wounded and dead are in the hands of the rebels and your dear boy among them. My hands are full. I just look after the wounded. We have many in the city. In haste I am yours in deep sympathy, with sorrow. Hoping your loss may have been eternal gain to the loved son.

Edward Burns Diary:

Saturday, September 19 Thare I got wounded and crawled about 40 rods into a ditch then put into an ambulance & took to shelter and on the ground – all very cold.

Edward Tabler survived all of the battles with the 51st, and died on June 21 1866 when a mule on his farm kicked him in the chest. From his Diary:

Saturday, September 19th – This morning the battle commenced, and raged with great fury. Our Division was called for, and off we went to the support of Gen. Crittenden’s Corps. After going on the double quick for a number of miles, our Brigade made a desperate charge on the Enemy, and lost half our number (the 51st Regt.).

Sunday, September 20th – The 51st Regt. lay on the battlefield all night assisting the wounded, and watching the Rebs. This morning we moved back one mile, and formed a new line of battle. At 12 the Enemy, with overwhelming numbers, drove us back towards Chattanooga, with a loss of some cannon, killed, wounded and prisoners, but the Enemy beaten on the left.

Edward Tabler

Captain Albert Tilton of Company C wrote:

Five lines deep they came swinging around our flanks. The odds were too great. No men could stand it. The fire was tremendous, the noise deafening, the crack of musketry, the booming of cannon, the shouts of officers, the frantic terror of riderless horses combined with the shouts and yells of either side as the other would waver for the moment—was the most terribly grand scene I ever witnessed. My company fought like devils. I shouted till my mouth was parched as dry as a husk and I was so hoarse I could hardly speak. I cut imaginary rebs into a thousand pieces as I waved and whirled my sword in exhorting and rallying the men. But it was too much for human nature to bear. We fell back and reformed on the brow of a hill about half a mile to the rear, but the rebs did not follow us.

During the night of the 19th, wounded and dead men of the brigade, other brigades, and of the Confederates lay between the lines in no man’s land. From the 51st, Henry Buck, John McBride, and Richard Bilby were all dead, and Sergeant Henry Trent had a shattered leg. Trent’s childhood friend from Illinois, Louis Genung, stole through the near-dark and helped drag him rearward enough to be picked up by stretcher bearers for the ambulance journey to the field hospital.

Dr Thomas Magee, hospital stewards, regimental musicians, and men who were ill but still walking carried the wounded from the field. Magee worked through the night at the field hospitals south of the battlefield at Crawfish Springs.

Dr Magee

The battle resumed on the 20th, and General Rosecrans was misinformed that there was a gap in his line of forces. He moved brigades to fill the nonexistent gap, creating a real gap. Confederate General James Longstreet attacked the gap, and the Union right wing was driven from the field. General George Thomas held the left wing through the night, then joined the retreat to Chattanooga; he became known as “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

The hospitals at Crawfish Springs were soon completely exposed. There was a rush to evacuate: the walking wounded and everyone who could be moved were loaded into ambulances and headed towards Chattanooga. At 4PM, Confederate cavalry arrived at the hospitals: Magee was captured with other physicians, hospital stewards, musicians, wounded men, dying men, rations, stores, and hospital supplies. For over a week he tended to the captured wounded on the Chickamauga field as the Confederates prepared to send their captives off to Richmond.

Edward Burns Diary:

Sunday, September 20 This morning taken to the doctor had my wound dressed, about four oclock rebel cavalry came and captured the Hospital, guarded us all night, came into the tents and took knapsacks rubbers and canteens from the wounded.

Tuesday, September 22 Surgeons are busily engaged amputating limbs and nurses burying dead.

Dr Magee wrote:

Our supply of rations was only sufficient to last to the fourth day of our capture, when we had to resort to the use of boiled wheat, stored in the building we occupied; and this was the only thing between us and starvation.

Martin Riley of Company K wrote:

On Monday, the 21st, I was detailed with a squad of men to convey some of the wounded soldiers to Chattanooga as the army was retreating to that place. While crossing a field, we met a rebel soldier marching along with his gun; he said he was going to the rear but I put him under arrest and took his gun; in 20 minutes we were overtaken by the rebel cavalry and carried off as prisoners, and the same prisoner I had been guarding took his gun, also my gun and was placed as guard over me.

We were taken back over the same battlefield on which we had fought the Saturday and Sunday previous, and a fearful sight met my view. Many of the soldiers that had been wounded or shot were still lying there in their terrible suffering without any attention having been given them. Their agony was beyond description. We were halted on the field and I was selected out and taken to General Breckenridge’s headquarters which were under a big oak tree and questioned as to the position, strength and equipment of the Union forces. I gave him very little satisfaction.

General Breckenridge was John Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States from 1857 until March 1861, when he was elected to the Senate from Kentucky. He ran for President in 1860, and came in third in a four man race, splitting the Democratic vote and giving the election to Lincoln. In December 1861, the Senate declared: “Resolved, That said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.” He joined the Confederacy at its start, and ended as its final Secretary of War.

CSA General John Breckinridge

At the end of September Dr Magee, Martin Riley, musicians Jacob Shirts, George Odom, Willie Mee and Charles Tower, and  200 walking wounded, marched 20 miles to Dalton, Georgia and then took the railroad to Atlanta, and the next day the railroad to Richmond for imprisonment. From Richmond, many were transferred to Andersonville, where 9 members of the 51st died, including Mee and Tower.

Almost 2000 captured Union wounded who could not march were released on parole, and ambulances carried them back to hospitals in Chattanooga. Edward Burns was among the captured wounded who were sent back across the lines; he died in Chattanooga on September 27, leaving his two children in Chicago orphans.

At the end of the battle, the Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, where they were beseiged and blockaded by Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Bragg had the city surrounded on three sides, and held heights on two sides overlooking the city: Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The other side backed into mountains, and it was impossible to get sufficient supplies through to the 40,000 Union soldiers. Confederate President Jefferson Davis came to view Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain, and was confident it would soon fall.

When Rosecran’s report of defeat reached the War Department on the night of the 23rd, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent a messenger to awaken President Lincoln and summon him to an emergency council.

Lincoln saddled his horse “Old Abe” and rode through the moonlight from his summer cottage to the War Department, where the council decided to send reinforcements to Chattanooga: two divisions from the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker, and divisions from the Army of the Tennessee under General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Stanton met General Ulysses Grant in Indianapolis on October 18, and gave him command of all Union armies in the west. Stanton had never met Grant, so he congratulated and shook hands with the wrong person, with Grant laughing off to the side.

Grant moved to Chattanooga, where he removed Rosecrans and gave General George Thomas command of the Army of the Cumberland.

The Seige of Chattanooga – October 1863

Edwin Nicar wrote (National Tribune July 25 1895):

The men were living on less than half rations, horses and mules were dying of actual starvation by hundreds, and it was a question indeed how much longer we could hold out. I have seen men wandering about picking up grains of corn dropped by horses, crumbs of hard bread dropped from some cracker-box, and everything and anything that could be called food. The beef issued to us was so nearly dead before being finally killed that the boys spoke of it as being dried on the hoof.

By late October, the soldiers in Chattanooga were down to 4 hard bread cakes and a quarter pound of pork every 3 days. On October 20 there were 52,000 soldiers in Chattanooga, with 2100 in hospitals.

Grant ordered a night-time expedition by 1200 soldiers, floating down the Tennessee River to seize a Confederate position at Brown’s Ferry. They held the Ferry on October 27, and General Hooker’s forces marching from Alabama joined with them on October 28. This created the “Cracker Line”, which allowed Chattanooga to be supplied, ending the blockade.

Grant waited until Sherman arrived from Vicksburg in mid November with his Army of the Tennessee, joining the Army of the Cumberland and Hooker’s divisions.

The Battle of Missionary Ridge – November 25 1863

Chattanooga National_Tribune_Nov_18__1897_

Both the Union and Confederacy had Signal Corps, who used semaphore flag systems on high points to transmit information and orders between regiments.

Union Signal Corps at Chattanooga

On November 23, 14,000 of Thomas’ troops, including the 51st in Sheridan’s division, marched in parade ground formation onto the plain between Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. The Confederates thought it was just a demonstration, until the troops went into a double-quick march and attacked Orchard Knob, a 100 foot tall mound on the plain. They quickly overran it and captured the 600 defenders. Afterwards, Orchard Knob was the vantage point where Grant and his staff watched the battle.

On November 24, Hooker’s divisions attacked Lookout Mountain. It was a foggy, rainy day and it became known as the Battle Above the Clouds. The Confederates were driven off, and burned bridges as they retreated so they couldn’t be pursued.

On November 25, Sherman’s troops attacked the north end of Missionary Ridge, but made no headway by noon. Grant ordered Thomas to attack the rifle pits along the base of the ridge, to draw off some of the resistance against Sherman. 20,000 troops in a two mile line, including the 51st, attacked and occupied their target; they were then trapped under rifle and artillery fire from the rebels on top of the ridge, 600 yards uphill.

They couldn’t survive where they were, and they didn’t want to retreat, so they spontaneously decided without orders to fight to the top. Some of the officers, including Sheridan, tried to stop them at first, but then joined in to see who could reach the top first. An observer on Orchard Knob reported this conversation:

Grant: Who ordered those men up the ridge?
Thomas: Nobody, they are just going themselves.
Grant: Well, it will be all right if it is all right.

From Orchard Knob, each regiment appeared like a gigantic black arrowhead moving uphill, with a crimson point at the top where the flag-bearer led the charge. Over the next 90 minutes, they fought their way to the top and routed the Confederates, seizing over 6000 prisoners and most of their artillery. Among the booty, the society ladies of Atlanta had presented 6 special cannon to the Confederate Army, made from the melted bells of Atlanta churches, stamped “Lady Bragg”, “Lady Breckinridge”, and four other generals.

The 51st was in the charge up the ridge. Company F took the most casualties, and its Captain George Bellows was shot throught the throat and died on the field as they reached the top.

Captain George Bellows

Bragg had been watching from the top of what he thought was an impregnable ridge, and had to flee with his troops in a retreat to Georgia; a week later he was replaced as commander by General John Bell Hood. The Confederacy had lost their hold on Tennessee.

As well as 19 year old James Calvert, 18 year old Arthur MacArthur of the 24th Wisconsin was part of the charge up the ridge. When the regiment’s color bearer was killed, he picked up the flag and led his regiment to the top, being wounded twice in the fight to the top. For his actions in the battle, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His son Douglas would also win the Medal of Honor, for his actions as Commander of the US Army in the Pacific Theater during World War 2.

51st LookoutMountain
Victorious soldiers of the 51st atop Lookout Mountain

Every regiment had flag bearers who carried the national flag and the regimental flag into battle. Each regiment’s flag was a distinctive design, and markings were added to commemorate each new battle. The flag bearers would be at the forefront of the charge, and the flags had more and more bullet holes as battles were fought. The flag bearers were very visible targets in battle; many were killed, and many flags were captured. Loss of the flag was shameful to a regiment, so heroic and often fatal efforts were made to recover it.

In Nashville at the end of November, a dinner was held for Colonel Bradley, at which the Chicago Board of Trade presented a new set of flags to the 51st, to replace the bullet-riddled originals.

Flag The_Nashville_Daily_Union_Tue__Dec_1__1863_
Nashville Union, December 1 1863

Union regiments held votes when it was time to reenlist. If more than 75% of a regiment voted yes, the regiment kept its designation; otherwise, the regiment was disbanded and any reenlisting soldiers were assigned to other regiments. Each reenlisting soldier was paid a $400 bounty, and the regiment was then sent home for a 30 day furlough.

At the beginning of February 1864, the soldiers of the 51st voted to reenlist.

From Edward Tabler’s Diary:

Tuesday, February 2nd The Co. was examined for the Veteran Service. Several rejected, and I with the rest.

Monday, February 8th The Regiment mustered into the Veteran Service.

The 51st then traveled by railroad from Chattanooga to Chicago for their furlough, and arrived at the Soldier’s Rest on the shore of Lake Michigan on February 16:

CHICAGO TRIBUNE – They arrived amid the waving of handkerchiefs of a number of ladies, who stood on the piazza of the Soldier’s Rest, overlooking the railroad track. On arriving at the depot the boys were mustered in line and marched to the Rest, where they were received with loud cheers, Vans and Dean’s Band playing “John Brown.” Here a bounteous dinner was prepared, to which the boys, after stacking arms, paid their devoirs. After dinner, T. B. Bryan, in a speech brim-full of humor, welcomed the boys on behalf of the citizens of Chicago, to which Colonel Bradley responded. Volunteer speeches were made by Mr. Russell, Adjutant Hall, a paroled prisoner from Richmond, and Chaplain Raymond. The band generously performed several patriotic airs, all of which rendered the occasion one of enjoyment. The men slept at the Rest last night, and will breakfast there at 9 o’clock this morning, after which, if the weather proves favorable, they will parade through the streets to the Board of Trade rooms, where a public reception will be given them. They will then proceed to Camp Fry, where they will get furloughs for thirty days.

Soldiers Rest

The ex-slave James Stovall accompanied the regiment to Chicago, and the men urged him to stay there and start a free life. He began working in restaurants, and moved to Winona, Minnesota in 1877, where he opened his own restaurant and became a well-to-do and well-repected citizen. He died in 1919, after 57 years of freedom.

James Stovall

In Nashville and Chicago, some of the 51st took time to have their portrait photographs made:

On March 28, the 51st boarded the train at Chicago’s Union Depot to return to the front. Three days later, the train arrived in Nashville, and they began a 150-mile march to Chattanooga. On May 3, they joined Sherman’s march to Georgia.

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain – June 27 1864

During all the marching between major battles, day-to-day skirmishing occurred. On June 15, Edward Hull was killed in a skirmish at Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, Georgia. He had joined the 51st at age 14 under the false name Henry Davis, marched and fought for 4 years, and was 18 when killed.

Edward Hull 1846-1864

Sherman had been using flanking maneuvers during his march, but ordered a frontal attack on strong Confederate fortifications at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27 1864.

Captain James Burkhalter led the 86th Illinois, and wrote that morning in his diary:

The stupidity of this order is enough to paralyze me. I must here acknowledge myself as altogether too skeptical to have the least confidence in the success of the enterprise. I think it far better not to give the plan of operation to my men, lest I gag on my words and reveal that I have the horrors, which, in turn, would give them the horrors, too.

Captain James Burkhalter 1835-1908

Private George Puntenney wrote:

Every private in that army knew that the attack would prove a disastrous failure.

Captain John Shellenberger wrote:

The 51st, leading the assault, had planted its colors on the rebel breastworks, and had effected a lodgment there, but there were too few of them left to jump over and engage in a hand-to-hand contest with the enemy. They lay down on the outer slope waiting for their supports to come up, but these did not arrive in sufficient numbers in time to enable them to hold the position. The rebels vigorously assailed the men of the 51st. Some were shot, some were bayoneted and some were dragged over the works by the hair of the head and made prisoners. The remnant, finding their position was a hopeless one, fell back behind the cover of the rest of the hill, where they were eventually joined by the remainder of the brigade.

Captain John Shellenberger 1843-1926

George Hoel could not dodge the bullets as he had at Stone River. He was shot in the right side during the charge, and was taken to the hospital in Chattanooga, where he died on September 14.

James was in Company D, and his commander Captain Theodore Brown wrote about the battle in 1909 a few months before his death:

On the night of June 26 I was on picket duty, and Gen. Harker, commanding our brigade, sent an Orderly ordering me to come with my regiment to his headquarters. It was the first time I had ever seen him, and I was a little surprised to have him tell me that he had watched me with great interest during this campaign, and he was much pleased with my soldierly bearing and the handling of my men. This, of course, was a pleasant thing for me to hear. He then intimated what we were to do the next day, and told me that, tho I was the youngest man commanding a regiment, he had selected me to the post of honor in leading the men into action. He then detailed the position in which he wanted the men formed, and told me I was to move so many yards directly east and then to move directly south. At that point I was to order: “Battalion, right wheel!”

This movement made brought McCook’s Brigade into immediate action and Wagner’s Brigade also engaged, and I saw at once the danger I was in. I immediately ordered my men to double-quick down the hill. This brought us within 19 feet of the rebels’ works. I tried to deploy my regiment and commence firing. I tried my best to do this, but found it an impossibility, and while so engaged I received a gunshot wound which effectually left me out of the action. I immediately called my Adjutant, Henry Hall of Boston, and gave him my orders. I then started to retire, and had gone about 10 feet from the firing line when I heard of my Adjutant’s death. A few feet farther I met Gen. Harker on horseback. He stopped me and asked me how things were in front. I told him it was impossible to carry out his orders. I had tried my very best to do as he wanted me to. He then drew his sword and cried, “Who will follow me?” Seventeen men jumped up to follow him and in less time than it takes to tell it Harker was a corpse. Nearly every one who got up was shot down.

Captain Brown was taken to the hospital in Chattanooga. His shattered arm did not heal for months, and he never returned to the war.

Captain Theodore Brown 1835-1909

Chaplain Raymond wrote:

This is the first disaster to our division since the campaign opened, and our regiment is a heavy sufferer. I have not been able to get a full list yet, but will give what I have been able to get. I was under a perfect shower of bullets and feared my horse would be shot, so I had to move him in the midst of the whizzing bullets and escaped further up the ravine behind a rocky ledge, where the balls passed over our heads.

We obtained Adjutant Henry Hall’s body yesterday under flag of truce. He was pierced eleven times, and the rebel Colonel said he was the bravest man he ever saw, and promised to send his sword to Colonel Bradley.

Colonel Bradley wrote:

No death among us has touched me like Hall’s. He was the most gallant man I ever saw. His conduct in this affair came as fully to the heroic as anything I can imagine.

Henry Ware Hall 1839-1864

The Civil War offered an opportunity for competent or flamboyant officers to advance rapidly. Charles Harker was only 26 when he was killed at Kennesaw, one of fifty Union Generals to fall in combat during the war.

Brigadier General Charles Harker 1838-1864

Harker was not the youngest Union General: Galusha Pennypacker was a General at 20, and George Armstrong Custer was a General at 23 (although he had regressed to Lt Colonel when he was scalped in 1876). Generals became celebrities, with music written in their honor.

The Battle of Atlanta – September 2 1864

After Kennesaw, the Confederates withdrew deeper into Georgia, and Sherman chased them. Atlanta fell on September 2, Sherman made his headquarters there on September 7, and the 51st joined the triumphal march through the city on September 8. Afterwards, the 51st made camp outside Atlanta, expecting a long period of rest.


While Sherman marched from Atlanta to the sea with his army, the 51st went by train to Bridgeport, Alabama on September 28, where they built quarters and received their first pay in 8 months.

On October 18, they went by train to Chattanooga, where 192 new draftees joined the regiment. From there, they marched 40 miles to Alpine, Georgia, and a week later marched back to Chattanooga, where they took the train to Athens, Alabama.

From Athens, they marched 20 miles to Pulaski, Tennessee, which required wading acoss the swift and ice-cold Elk River for the second time in the war. The 51st left Pulaski on November 22, and marched north with the Army of the Cumberland towards Franklin, Tennessee, where they had been 26 months before.

The Battle of Franklin – November 30 1864

On the 29th, the 51st skirmished at Spring Hill, 12 miles south of Franklin. During the fight, the bearers of the national and regimental flags were killed, and the flags lay on the ground before the advancing Confederates. Sergeant Louis Genung (1833-1915) and Private Kiser Lansdown (1843-1865) rushed to retrieve the flags while under fire.

The Union Army arrived at Franklin early on the morning of the 30th, and constructed defensive fortifications around the city. General George Wagner’s division, including the 51st, was the rearguard and the last to arrive from Spring Hill. Wagner ordered his brigades into position a half mile in front of the fortifications, on open, flat unprotected ground. One of his three brigade commanders, Colonel Emerson Opdycke, refused the order as idiotic, and moved his troops within the fortifications. The other two commanders obeyed orders and left their troops outside.

The soldiers of the two exposed brigades were without entrenching tools: those had been sent into Franklin in the regimental wagons. They dug at the ground with bayonets, knives and coffee cups, attempting to make defensive trenches.

Just before sunset, the 20,000 soldiers of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, now led by General John Bell Hood, began their attack. Their first targets were the 3000 soldiers in the two exposed brigades.

Captain John Shellenberger wrote:

The indignation of the men grew almost into a mutiny and the swearing of those gifted in profanity exceeded all their previous efforts. Even the green drafted men could see the folly of our position, for one of them said to me, “What can our Generals be thinking about in keeping us out here?” 

The rebel advance was so rapid that my company had fired only five or six rounds to the man when the break came. The opposing lines met in a hand-to-hand encounter in which clubbed muskets were used, but our line quickly gave way.

I shouted to my company, “Fallback! Fallback!” Our men were all running with their guns in their hands. The cry of some of our wounded who went down in that wild race, knowing they would have to lie there exposed to all the fire of our own line, had a pathetic note of despair in it, I had never heard before. A rebel account has stated that the next morning they found some of the dead with their thumbs chewed to a pulp. They had fallen with disabling wounds and the agony of their helpless exposure to the murderous fire from our breastworks, which swept the bare ground where they were lying, had been so great that they had stuck their thumbs in their mouths and bit on them to keep from bleating like calves. Many of the bodies thus exposed were hit so frequently that they were literally riddled with bullet holes.

J. J. Frinney witnessed the battle, and wrote about it 19 years later in the National Tribune:

Before that day I had seen three years of service in the army. I had been at Shiloh, Stones River, Perryville, Rocky-face Ridge, Resaca, and all the set-to’s that finally gave us the keys to Atlanta, but never had I witnessed such fighting. I had often seen pictures representing battles where well-dressed soldiers were grappling with one another in hand-to-hand encounters, where officers in parade dress, on slick and prancing chargers, were forcing the fight at the point of the sword; where artillerymen were defending their guns with pike and axe, and I had set them down as mere fancy sketches, evolved from the brain of some imaginative painter who sacrificed truth to artistic effect, but after that day I was willing to concede that my experience in battle had been that of a mere child and that the finest wrought pictures of battle were mere daubs.

Alexander Jack of the 51st wrote:

On that bloody field about half way between the cotton gin on the left and the Columbia Pike on the right, Kiser Lansdown stood on the works waving the banner in defiance. He soon received a shot through his left hand but he maintained the dangerous position until his right arm was shattered just below the shoulder. When Franklin was abandoned by the Union forces that night, he with most of the wounded were left in the hands of the Confederates. When the place was recaptured December 17, David Reed and I hunted up Kiser. We found him among other wounded in a warehouse. We supplied his wants as best we could, furnishing him some clean underclothing which he stood badly in need of. He was removed at once to the hospital at Nashville, from which place we shortly received news of his death. 

Cyrus Jacobs of the 51st wrote:

I was in line of battle with our Regiment out in front of the main line and after the rebels had made several charges and had flanked us and some of the enemy had gained our rear, we started to retreat to the second line which was about a half a mile to our rear. Louis T. Genung had the colors on that day and started with us to the rear. I did not see him when he was wounded but know from report that he was bayoneted. I also know that he did not get to the second line of works.

James Calvert wrote (the only writing of his which has been preserved):

I did not see him (Genung) after the battle until I saw him at an old stone fort at Columbia, Tennessee three or four days after the battle. Then I helped care for him and to dress a bayonet wound in his abdomen. I got water for him at the same time. I know he came with me from Franklin because he had the colors in the battle.

After Wagner’s exposed division was destroyed, the Confederates launched multiple attacks against the Union fortifications, which were repulsed with huge Confederate casualties. By the end of the day, over 3000 men were dead, including 6 Confederate Generals.

Brad Thompson wrote home to his wife:

We had such a terrible fight at Franklin; where men fell by thousands, and where shot and shell and grape and canister rattled thick and fast, where the whistling of bullets, the roar of cannon and the yells of the mad soldiers were enough to confuse any man’s senses, and confound his mind. Oh! What a terrible day, an awful day, and one that no man who was there can ever forget. Nearly five thousand men killed in one day; upon one field, every one of whom left a wife, a mother, a sister, or perhaps children to mourn his death.

Sam Watkins was on the Confederate side at Franklin, and wrote:

Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of the war of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any way. It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene!

I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood.

James and Louis were among the 700 Union soldiers who were captured when the exposed division was overrun. Louis survived his bayonet wound and spent the rest of the war imprisoned at Cahaba, Alabama; James was not so lucky and was sent to Andersonville.

With James captured, we now leave the 51st. They continued marching and fighting through the war, and ended in Camp Irwin, Texas, where they were mustered out on September 25 1865. Their last trip was to Illinois for discharge on October 15.


Andersonville Prison

Andersonville was constructed in southwest Georgia in January 1864, to keep the rapidly growing number of Union prisoners securely away from Union forces. It originally encompassed 16 acres of sandy soil, surrounded by a 15 foot high stockade. The stockade held enlisted men; officers were held in an adjacent pen with better amenities.

There was a swamp of about 5 acres across the middle, with a creek running through it which was about 5 feet wide and 6 inches deep. The creek served both as the source of drinking water, and the latrine. Upstream outside the stockade, the cookhouse used the stream as a grease dump, so the water was already filthy when it entered the prison.

Swiss immigrant Captain Heinrich “Henry” Wirz (1815-1865) arrived in March as its commandant, when it already held nearly 10,000 prisoners, with hundreds arriving each day. Wirz had a line of poles erected inside the stockade, creating a 20 foot wide dead line; prisoners were shot if they crossed it, squeezing them further into the center. There was also a cannon mounted at each corner, to discourage the prisoners from thinking about uprising.

Shot for stealing wood from the Dead Line – Watercolor by Robert Sneden

Prisoners were divided into groups of 90, led by a prisoner sergeant. No shelter was provided inside the stockade, and the prisoners had to improvise with whatever was at hand. The results were called “shebangs”. Some made tents from shirts or blankets draped over ridgepoles, some dug holes to make small caves, some made mud bricks, some risked their lives to take wood from the dead line posts. The prisoners had no cooking utensils, and very little firewood.

Shebangs – Watercolor by Robert Sneden

In June the stockade was enlarged to its final size of 26 acres, and by August it held 35,000 prisoners, making it one of the largest “cities” in the Confederacy.

Private Will B Smith was in the 14th Illinois, and was captured at Moon Station, Georgia on Oct 3 1864, during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.  He was 16 when he arrived at Andersonville on October 5, two months before James. He wrote:

The daily rations arrived in a mule team hitched to an old wagon, in which were some greasy looking barrels. This wagon was driven in-side and started east on the street which led across the pen, and as it moved along it was followed by crowds of eager, hungry prisoners. At each narrow cross-street along the way it halted, and the sergeants in charge of the groups of nineties received the rations of corn bread and pea soup for their respective companies.

The bread was in cakes, or loaves, about two feet square and four inches thick. The soup was received in buckets which the prisoners had made out of wood, using strips of leather cut from their belts for hoops. Some carried their soup away in boots, others in boot-leg buckets, others in drawer and pantaloon legs, made secure at the bottoms, and which had become so coated inside from the sediment adhering to them that they leaked but very little.

As each sergeant received the rations for his company he was followed off to his quarters by the men belonging thereto. There he divided the rations into four parts, and gave them to four other sergeants for distribution among as many different squads. These squad sergeants cut the corn bread up into as many pieces as they had men in their squads, and as the names or numbers of the men were called the final distribution was made. Meat, when we had any, was distributed in the same way. Beans and mush were divided in many different ways.

Private Martin Riley of Company K was captured at Chickamauga, and wrote of his arrival:

On entering the gate I beheld row upon row of the dead lying there—the eyes of whom shone with a stony glitter, their hungry faces blackened with smoke, pinched with pain, the long matted hair and the almost fleshless frames swarming with lice.

The dead were taken out each day in the ration wagon, and buried in long trenches. Prisoner Dorence Atwater kept meticulous records of the dead, and less than 500 of the 13,000 dead are in unknown graves.

Prisoners who attempted to escape, or offended in any other way, were punished: they were put in stocks, were lashed, had to wear a ball and chain, were bucked and gagged.


A gang ruled the prison as the “Raiders”, also called N’Yarkers because most of them came from the northeast. They stole rations and possessions from the other prisoners, murdered those who resisted, and set up a big tent as their headquarters in the prison. The opposing “Regulators” led by Sergeant Leroy Key and a tall fellow named Limber Jim, attempted to protect other prisoners from the Raiders. Things came to a head on July 3 1864, when the Regulators and Raiders battled. The Regulators won, and over 125 captive Raiders were seized and held at the North Gate stockade. The prisoners conducted a formal trial, with a jury of Sergeants, and imprisoned lawyers representing the defendants. The convicted Raiders were returned to the main stockade for punishment by the other prisoners: some were made to run a gauntlet where they were beaten with clubs and sticks, some were placed in stocks, some wore a ball and chain, some were lashed. The six leaders of the Raiders were sentenced to death. Wirz brought in a wagon-load of scrap lumber, and the prisoners assembled a gallows long enough for six.

John McElroy enlisted in the 16th Illinois Cavalry in 1863 at the age of 16, and was captured and sent to Andersonville in February 1864. He wrote of the hanging:

A little after noon the South Gate opened, and Wirz rode in, dressed in a suit of white and mounted on his white horse–a conjunction which had gained for him the appellation of “Death on a Pale Horse.” Behind him walked the priest, and the six doomed men followed, walking between double ranks of Rebel guards.

After Wirz and the guards left, Sergeant Key took command at the gallows:

Sergeant Key raised his hand like an officer commanding a gun. Each of the six hangmen tied a condemned man’s hands, pulled a meal sack down over his head, placed the noose around his neck, drew it up tolerably close, and sprang to the ground. Harris and Payne laid hold of the ropes to the supports of the planks.

Key dropped his hand. Payne and Harris snatched the supports out with a single jerk. The planks fell with a clatter. Five of the bodies swung around dizzily in the air. Mosby, a large, powerful, man, one of the worst in the lot, and who, among other crimes, had killed Limber Jim’s brother, broke the rope and fell with a thud to the ground. Some of the men ran forward, examined the body, and decided that he still lived. The rope was cut off his neck, the meal sack removed, and water thrown in his face until consciousness returned. At the first instant he thought he was in eternity. He gasped out: “Where am I? Am I in the other world?”

Limber Jim muttered that they would soon show him where he was, and went on grimly fixing up the scaffold anew. Mosby soon realized what had happened, and the unrelenting purpose of the Regulator Chiefs. Then he began to beg piteously for his life, saying: “O for God’s sake, do not put me up there again! God has spared my life once. He meant that you should be merciful to me.”

Limber Jim deigned him no reply. When the scaffold was rearranged, and a stout rope had replaced the broken one, he pulled the meal sack once more over Mosby’s head, who never ceased his pleadings. Then picking up the large man as if he were a baby, he carried him to the scaffold and handed him up to Tom Larkin, who fitted the noose around his neck and sprang down. The supports had not been set with the same delicacy as at first, and Limber Jim had to set his heel and wrench at them before he could force them out. Then Mosby passed away without a struggle.

After hanging till life was extinct, the bodies were cut down, the meal sacks pulled off their faces, and the Regulators formed two parallel lines, through which all the prisoners passed and took a look at the bodies.


The six Raiders were taken out at the end of the day on the ration wagon, and buried separately from all of the other dead prisoners.

The Raider Graves

The starvation diet caused scurvy, which caused skin ulcers which become gangrenous, leading to either death or amputation. Every prisoner was covered in lice, and ulcerated wounds became filled with maggots. Diarrhea and dysentary, smallpox and typhoid fever were common killers.

Thousands of survivors wrote memoirs and letters describing their experiences. As a single example, G. W. Jones wrote in 1879:

The sufferings we endured while in that ill-fated place, binds us nearer together than many years of other friendship. It makes my blood run cold to think of that place yet. To see human beings starved by thousands day by day, shot down by hundreds, bucked and gagged, stamped to death by those rebel traitors, is more than I can ever forget. I was in Andersonville 7 months and 10 days. When I was captured I weighed 156 pounds. When I came out, I weighed 59 1/2 pounds, so you can see how well we were fed. I saw men go straight to the dead line to be shot down, to escape their suffering; saw men cut their own hands off to save their lives; saw one man cut both feet off with a pair of old shears. I have seen men eaten up by scurvy and gangrene.

Boston Corbett of the 16th New York Cavalry arrived at Andersonville in June 1864, and was exchanged in November. After treatment in an Annapolis hospital for scurvy and starvation, he returned to his regiment as a Sergeant.

Andersonville August 1864

After Sherman captured Atlanta, Jefferson Davis became concerned that Sherman might try to liberate Andersonville, so most of the prisoners were moved in September to other prisons throughout the Confederacy. 20,000 were moved; 8000 who were too sick to move were left, and half of those died by October.

When James arrived in December 1864, the population was down to 2000, and then began to grow again. The winter was hard: the prisoners had no blankets or overcoats, and very little firewood was available.

It remained in use until April 1865, by which time 13,000 of the 45,000 men who had gone there had died of disease or starvation. The surrender at Appomattox was signed on April 9, and the last 51 prisoners marched out of Andersonville the next day. Thomas Eads of Company C, who was captured at Franklin, was in the last group. He wrote:

We took the cars—Wirz and family along with us—and thence were transported to Albany, Georgia, whither we had once previously been taken and brought back to Andersonville. We were then marched to Thomasville, Georgia. Another prisoner and I escaped at Albany, intending to try to get back to Union lines, but about 12 o’clock that night we woke up an old planter to get something to eat and information as to what direction to pursue, and were persuaded by him to get to the squad of prisoners in camp at Albany as quick as possible, as we were on our way to be exchanged. We, however, concluded to turn our direction to Thomasville, whither the squad was to be marched the following day. The next night about 12 o’clock, we reached the suburbs of Thomasville, where the prisoners were in camp. Passing along the road we came upon the major commanding the squad, lying on a cot, and reported to him. He asked where we had been, and we told him we had been foraging and had left his command at Albany. He remarked, using his own language: “You are the darndest set of Yankees I ever saw.” He chatted very friendly with us a few moments and then told us to report to the officer of the guard. We did so, and the boys of our acquaintance got up, built a fire, and they had a good square meal as far quantity was concerned as they had for a long while, as we had two haversacks as full as was comfortable for a 125-lb. boy to carry.

Andersonville Survivors

Freedom at Vicksburg

When the Civil War began, the Union and Confederate governments were not prepared to deal with the large number of captured prisoners, so they used a system of parole and exchange: prisoners were paroled back to their side, with their word-of-honor promise that they would not return to combat until they were formally exchanged for an enemy prisoner of equal rank (or by formula, such as one major for fifteen privates). By 1863, the Union decided that they would rather deprive the Confederate Army of soldiers by keeping the prisoners, so the system was shut down and prison camp populations surged; another reason for ending exchange was that the Confederacy refused to recognize black soldiers, and sent them to slavery instead of exchange.

In January 1865, with the end of the War in sight, General Grant authorized the resumption of the system, and Parole Camp Fisk was established 4 miles east of Vicksburg, Mississippi to serve as the western exchange site. Union Surgeon Major Hurstman arived at Camp Fisk on March 17, and made this report to his superiors:

I visited the Federal prisoners at this camp, whom I found numbering 808. They were, I then thought, the most distressed and destitute looking body of men that I had ever beheld. Many of them sick with dysentary and diarrhea, and all more or less affected with scurvy. Thin in flesh, some of them greatly emaciated, all extremely filthy, their clothing in shreds and covered with vermin, having twice been robbed of their blankets, first when captured, including boots, hats and pants, and again when started upon their journey hitherward. Thus the very embodiment of humiliated poverty, they lay about on the ground clutching at any and everything which presented the least inducement for supplying their wants. It will be remembered that these were from Cahaba, and represented by the Confederate authorities as able bodied.

On the 27th, 700 of the Andersonville prisoners arrived, whose condition and general appearance I have no language to describe, and will pass them with the single remark, that they were, with scarcely an exception, a body of creeping, crawling human skeletons, festering with disease, vermin and filth.

Captain Joseph Elliott was captured at Spring Hill the same day that James was captured at Franklin; they probably traveled to Andersonville together. He was held in the Officer’s pen, and left on March 20 in the group of 700 for exchange at Vicksburg; James was probably in the same departing group. Elliott wrote:

We were marched up to the railroad to await the train for Montgomery. We had been there a short time when the prisoners from the large pen began to come up. It was one of the most pitiful sights I ever beheld. Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and the sea had given up their dead.

They waited patiently for the train, but when it finally arrived there was a wild scramble to get on board, every man for himself, as if in terror lest he be left behind.

There was hardly a station on the road where we did not leave the remains of some poor fellow to be buried by strangers. How hard to die in the morning of their deliverance, with all the bright hopes of meeting father, mother, wife or children!

The journey from Andersonville went by railroad to Montgomery, then steamboat to Selma, then railroad through Meridian to Jackson; for the rail journey they were packed in box cars without room to sit. From Jackson, they had to march 30 miles to the Big Black River, which was the dividing line between Union and Confederate territory. After ferrying across the Big Black, they took the railroad to Camp Fisk. The prisoners were so ill and emaciated that many died on the journey from Andersonville. As an example, one regiment from Ohio reported:

Arrived on the 27th from Andersonville, 1st Lieut John Eadie, Captain Lowry. Private John Harris died at Jackson on his way to Vicksburg, David McGrath died at Andersonville before he could depart, Private John Fitzwalter died at Meridian.

James survived 4 months at Andersonville, and then made the journey as part of the 700 that arrived at Camp Fisk on the 27th. He was exchanged on April 1 1865, and from Vicksburg was sent up the Mississippi by steamboat.

Missing The Sultana

On April 24, the next group of exchanged prisoners at Vicksburg were sent up the river on the steamboat Sultana. The ship had a legal capacity of 376, but 1960 Union soldiers were crammed aboard, completely emptying Camp Fisk. The ship’s Captain (James Cass Mason) earned $5-10 for every soldier he carried. When the ship left Vicksburg, it carried over 2400 passengers and crew. Along with the soldiers, other passengers were a dozen ladies of a charitable organization, an opera troupe, a newlywed couple, and the ship’s mascot, an alligator.

Captain Mason

The overloaded ship was photographed at Helena, Arkansas on the 26th, the same day that John Wilkes Boothe was killed in Virginia by Sergeant Boston Corbett, formerly of Andersonville. The next day it stopped at Memphis, and 150 lucky soldiers decided to disembark. At 2AM on the 27th, north of Memphis, the Sultana’s boilers exploded and the ship burned to the waterline, killing over 1700 of the passengers in the worst maritime disaster in US history.

Boston Corbett
Sultana at Helena, Arkansas April 26 1865
The Sultana Aflame

The Mississippi was high and cold from the melting snow up north. Many of those who jumped off to escape burning drowned from the effects of hypothermia; many who could not swim pulled under those who could.

Joseph Elliott was aboard, and wrote:

Looking out and down into the river, I saw that the men were jumping from all parts of the boat into the river. Such screams I never heard – twenty or thirty men jumping off at a time – many lighting on those already in the water – until the river became black with men, their heads bobbing up like corks, and then many disappearing never to appear again.

After he jumped off, he found some floating wood to hang onto, and looked back at the ship:

The fire had come under full headway, and it looked like a huge bonfire in the middle of the river. The men who were afraid to take to the water could be seen clinging to the sides of the boat until they were singed off like flies. Shrieks and cries for mercy were all that could be heard. That dreadful scene went on and finally closed by the deck going down with all the men who were on it into the flames.

Another eyewitness said that Captain Mason remained with the boat to the last, walking up and down the upper deck and encouraging the men to remain cool, until he went down with it into the fire.

Hundreds of the bodies were never recovered from the Mississippi, leaving family members to post pleas for information:

War’s End

On May 23-24, the victorious armies of the Union paraded in Washington before new President Andrew Johnson, General Grant and a crowd of over 200,000. Flags were raised to full staff for the first time since Lincoln’s death.

The May 24 parade was led by General Sherman, and had 60,000 men marching in a 15-mile long procession, with rifles polished and bayonets fixed. The 51st Illinois had 370 soldiers marching. Since James had been out of Andersonville for only a few weeks, it is unlikely that he had the strength to be in the march.

GrandParade The_Philadelphia_Inquirer_Thu__May_25__1865_

Henry Wirz was convinced he had done nothing wrong (after all, he was only following orders), and stayed at home with his family instead of escaping. He was arrested and taken to Washington DC for trial; multiple attempts were made to assassinate him during the trip, so he was shaved and put into a disguise to complete the trip.

His trial before a military tribunal lasted from August to November; the chief judge was Major-General Lew Wallace, better known as the author of Ben-Hur in 1880. He was convicted on November 6, hanged on November 10, and buried next to the Lincoln assassination conspirators, who had been hanged on July 7. The Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument to Wirz in 1909, one mile from Andersonville.

Life After

James mustered out of the Army on June 16 1865 in Springfield, Illinois at the age of 20, after 27 months of marching and fighting, and 4 months of starvation in captivity. He settled in Morgan County west of Springfield, and married 20 year old Lucinda Adams in 1867. Their first child William was born the next year. In 1870 they lived next door to his mother-in-law Sarah Adams, and he was working as a railroad hand.

At the 1875 reunion of the Army of the Cumberland, George Waterman, Captain of Company F of the 51st, remarked:

We remember those who did not come back with us, but who sleep beneath the clods in those valleys where the twilight hardly lingers. We were graduates of the practical art of war; in the practical application of mud, water, and mules; in the practical solution of the problem how to save a country. Sturdy men are scattered all through the land who left the army with enlarged habits of thought and reason, with national as well as county and farm ideas, and with a mental vision no longer bounded by the horizon surrounding a county seat, but which took in the entire length and breadth of our land.

James and Lucinda moved to Page County, Iowa before 1880, where he worked as a laborer and farmer. By 1887, they had 5 boys and 3 girls, including the twins Annie (Laura Anna) and Fannie (Lila Frances).

Annie, Jenny and Fannie Calvert

On July 22 1891, the Clarinda, Iowa Herald published a long article about several residents of the area. The 2 paragraphs about James Calvert start sensibly about his life, but then wander off into a long diatribe against Democrats and never get back to James:

Mr Calvert in one sense, is a curiosity: he is a Union solder who enlisted from Alabama. It is real interesting to hear him tell about his adventures in the south. He, with a number of other Unionists hid in the woods for months to keep from the rebels; just as soon as the Union army got in their neighborhood they enlisted with the first regiment they came to. He joined the 51st Illinois infantry and saw hard service; he was captured several times and was in Andersonville for several months. At the close of the war he came north and settled, but has not been able to work, as his health was practically ruined by the hard service he saw fighting the rebels. He applied for a pension a long time ago and if there is any old soldier who deserves one it is he. His papers are all right and his record clear and why something cannot be done to get his just deserts from the government he helped to preserve we cannot see. There is something peculiar about the workings of the pension department, it goes by jerks; one man’s claim will go through like a top, while another will wait and wait until he feels like cursing the government and dying. Now here is Mr Calvert, a man who stood by the country in its darkest hour and among its most bitter enemies, right in the heart of the rebellious states, who is unable to do a day’s work, who can’t get a smell from the government which owes its existence to such as he, while we know of two Democrats who went into the Union army because they had to, and who have improved every opportunity since the surrender of Lee to injure the cause for which they are said to have fought by voting the straight Democratic ticket, who live right here in Page county, one here in Clarinda and the other not very far away, who have got fat pensions within the last month or two and only a few months from the time their applications were filed. The writer is a Republican, “Glory to God” as the Free Methodists say, and I am not afraid to tell the rankest Democrat on earth why I am one.

We have no quarrel with the Republican party, but it does strike us as though the time has now arrived when a Republican is to be preferred to any Democrat, all other things being equal, and especially so when things are unequal, as they are in this case. It makes us weary and sick to the stomach to know of an old soldier voting the Democratic ticket; it is like a miserable ingrate slandering his own mother. It is like a man petting his wife, extolling her virtue and then turning around and branding her before the public as a prostitute. Most Democrats are Democrats from pure contrariness and from no other cause whatever.

Fannie married Elmond Arnold on August 3 1895, and they moved to Missouri. William married Cora Lookhart in 1897, and they moved to Kansas. Annie married Arthur McIntire on August 2 1899; they stayed in Iowa.

Annie & Arthur
Annie and Arthur McIntire

James, Lucinda and their 5 other children moved to Van Zandt County, Texas in 1899, where his sister Cynthia Calvert Featherson and her family already lived. By 1910, James and Lucinda had moved to adjacent Henderson County and bought land, living outside Murchison next door to son Albert.

Back in Iowa, Annie had a daughter Helen in December 1901, and then unexpectedly died on May 26 1905 at the age of 30. Arthur then moved to Canada with Helen, where he died in 1951.

Jenny married Edwin Jackson in May 1901. They moved to Girard, Texas and had two children: Clyde, and my grandmother Vienna Golden.

Lucinda died in November 1918 during the Spanish Influenza pandemic at the age of 71.

James and Lucinda Calvert

James lived near Murchison, Texas with his sons William and John until his death on April 11 1933 at the age of 88.

His family gathered for his funeral at Murchison, and he was buried in Liberty Cemetery next to Lucinda.


So ends the life of James Calvert, one of 2,750,000 soldiers in the Civil War, one of 45,000 prisoners at Andersonville, one of 2678 Alabamians who fought for the Union.


  1. Many of the Union and Confederate Regiments have webpages dedicated to their history. The 51st Illinois has an especially good one.
  2. The 51st Muster Roll.
  3. 51st member photos are from a CDV album sold by Cowan’s Auction House in November 2016.
  4. The Washington National Tribune newspaper ran from 1877 to 1917, and published thousands of articles, memoirs and letters about the Civil War. All issues are available at newspapers.com (subscription required). John McElroy (Source 10) became its Editor and co-owner in 1884.
  5. The Life of Louis Genung.
  6. Captain John Shellenberger The Battle of Franklin
  7. The National Park Service’s webpage for Andersonville Prison.
  8. Henry Wirz , Commandant of Andersonville
  9. In 1994, the previously unknown Civil War memoirs of Robert Knox Sneden, and over 500 watercolors painted by him, were discovered in a bank vault. Sneden served in the 40th New York Infantry, and survived Andersonville.
  10. John McElroy Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons
  11. John Urban Battlefield and Prison Pen
  12. Will B Smith On Wheels And How I Came There
  13. Ezra Hoyt Ripple Dancing Along The Deadline
  14. Joseph Taylor Elliott The Sultana Disaster
  15. Colorized photos from Twitter user @ColorizedPast.


One Reply to “James Calvert, Soldier”

  1. This was excellent. Thank you for writing it.
    Rogers Turner
    Winter Park, Florida

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