Charles Barney Dennis at Stones River Part I: Engagement at Knob Gap

Private Albert Palmer
Co. D, 101st Ohio

In commemoration of the 157th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River, I proudly present five excerpts covering the Stones River campaign written by Private Charles Barney Dennis of Co. B, 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Wounded through the hip during the battle of December 31st, 1862, Dennis was left behind at the Gresham House field hospital and his account of his experiences behind the lines is one of the finest I have ever read concerning Stones River. These excerpts, part of a much larger manuscript  covering Dennis' wartime service, reside at the Hayes Memorial Library in Fremont, Ohio.

The general move began early in the morning of the 26th of December. Our brigade [Colonel William P. Carlin’s, consisting of the 21st Illinois, 38th Illinois, 15th Wisconsin, 101th Ohio, and 2nd Minnesota Battery] being in one of the right divisions [General Jefferson C. Davis], moved straight out the Nolensville Pike about two miles where we encountered the cavalry pickets of the enemy. Then we turned to the right on a mud road and about 11 o’clock got in touch with heavier forces of the enemy and after sharp skirmishing forced him back to near the village of Nolensville, where he took position on a ridge which ran directly across the pike.

On this ridge he planted a battery of four guns with a strong support of infantry. Our line drew up on a parallel ridge about one-half to three-quarters of a mile distant. One of our batteries had been ordered to get into position and open on the Rebels. [5th Wisconsin Battery under Captain Oscar F. Pinney] While it was trying to dislodge them, our brigade formed in line of battle for a charge. We were held in line a long time (a habit the officers seemed to have cultivated), holding men formed line so close together that a bullet could not pass through without hitting a man. The men became uneasy as the bullets of the enemy were singing high and low and the shells of the Rebel battery were bursting overhead and plowing into the mud in front of the line. It was fortunate, even if uncomfortable, that the mud was everywhere two to six inches deep. This fact saved us the damage that ricocheting shots would have done had the ground been dry.

However, we finally had the order to go forward and going forward in a straight line would bring our company directly up to the firing Rebel battery. It soon became evident that the forward movement was a charge, more properly speaking, and that the purpose was to capture the battery and the ridge on which it was posted. The forward movement became speedier and finally developed into a regular charge at the double quick.  Down off the ridge which we occupied, into a little valley, across that then up the ridge and just take possession of the Rebel guns and the men working them- it looked easy. It was a short distance to go. In the little valley mentioned, there ran a small ravine and just on our side of this ravine ran an old-fashioned rail fence. Everything was wet and it was raining still. [George S. Meyers of Co. F recalled that this charge turned into a ‘tedious walk. The fields had been in corn and the heavy rains had so softened the ground that great loads of sticky clay clung to our feet. Shells came thick enough but away overhead they went; a few struck in front, splashing the line with mud but not exploding.’]

The fence had not been thrown down on our regimental front as it had been further along, so at some points men climbed it and at others they threw it down. In front of our company it remained standing so we had to climb it. I had gotten up onto it, put my foot on a rail that ran lengthwise of the zig-zags of the fence, put my right foot on it and sprang forward. The rail slipped and so did I. The slipping of the rail killed the force of my jump and threw me down face first into the water of the ravine which I had intended to jump over. As I found myself slipping, I had sense enough to throw my gun as far as possible and fortunately it fell on high ground at the edge of the ravine. Some officer thinking I had been wounded came to my assistance, but I was up in no time and went forward, reaching the guns about as soon as the rest of the company. I did not, however, feel comfortable as those who had managed to keep out of the water.
Colonel William P Carlin

We captured two of the four guns, six of the horses, and about a dozen to fifteen men. This charge that resulted so successfully put our regiment right in line with the old veteran regiments of our brigade. Ours was the only 1862 regiment in the brigade and we had only been out a little over three months. The army, corps, and division generals were watching the charge and particularly our part of the action and were much pleased with the veteran-like morale of the regiment and we were praised in all the official reports of these commanders as well as that of our brigade commander Colonel Carlin. [Major Isaac M. Kirby described the action thus in his official report: ‘Arriving within a quarter mile of the enemy’s battery, we formed into line and led by Colonel Stem charged at the double quick, succeeding together with the rest of the brigade in taking one gun and four prisoners. Our loss was three men wounded.’ General Jefferson Davis’ report adds a few details stating that ‘one of the guns captured by it had on it the word ‘Shiloh’ and belonged to Georgia troops.’]

We slept on the captured ridge that night and sent back for our baggage, a part of which was the remains of our Christmas dinner. The baggage came up all right, but the Christmas stuff had been seized by some scoundrel of a Yankee, probably one of the guards that had been put over it while we made the charge. It was still raining, but we found some rails, made a good fire, got our supper, and then taking two rails and laying them close together, we wrapped our rubber blankets around us and lay down to sleep. I don’t think I ever had a better night’s sleep.

Of course, you will not think that everybody went to sleep. The regular detail for camp guard and picket duty was made and the men went out to spend an uncomfortable night, for the rain continued. I may say right here that it continued for the next ten days or two weeks. This was the beginning of what is known in history as the Stones River campaign and it is my belief that a more severe campaign was never made during the war. December in this section of Tennessee is generally pretty rough. It is the rainy season and the rain is often followed or preceded by snow. We had no snow on this campaign but I am safe in saying that not for one hour from the morning of the 26th of December until the night of the 3rd of January following were the clothes or shoes worn by anyone in the Army of the Cumberland dry. The wet even got through our haversacks and our food, such as we had, would be soaked. Imagine after a wearisome day of marches and fighting to set down (or stand up) to a supper of rain-soaked hard tack, sow belly, and black coffee, besides having to get your own supper.


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