From Time to Eternity: Behind the Lines on Kennesaw

Colonel Thomas J. Milholland was born February 2, 1835; he served as captain of Co. A of the 107th Illinois Volunteer Infantry from December 1862-September 25, 1864 when he was commissioned major, and on New Year’s Day 1865, lieutenant colonel. The regiment participated at Franklin (where it captured two Confederate battle flags), Nashville, and Milholland led the regiment during the Carolina campaign while assigned to the 23rd Army Corps; at the end of the war, he was commissioned colonel but never mustered at that rank. After the war, he moved to Wellington,  Kansas and passed away there in 1883 at age 48. Colonel Milholland is buried at Wellington Pioneer Cemetery.

The following letter was written in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. In this account, Captain Milholland describes the scenes behind the lines where death arrived with little or no notice, and dying men men are carted off to the field hospitals weltering in their own gore. It is a hellish picture that he paints.



Headquarters, 107th Illinois Volunteers

In the field near Marietta, Georgia

June 30, 1864

            Through a kind providence, I am again permitted to write you in good health, though feeling a little uncomfortable on account of the intense heat.

            I have just been to our divisional hospital but I can assure you, my dear woman, that it is a heart-rendering sight to see those poor fellows all shot to pieces and to hear their groans and prayers. After being brought to the hospital, an opiate is speedily administered to them and under its influence they soon repose into a doze and generally appear to be insensible to severe pains. Though nothing more than skirmishing between the two lines is going on now, yet the stretcher bearers are kept pretty busily engaged in carrying off the dead and wounded. The surgeons are also kept constantly employed in dressing wounds and amputating limbs. The Rebel sharpshooters fire with great precision, though many are wounded from stray shots while carelessly passing around in rear of the works. Again, I find that men get so accustomed to dangers from a constant exposure on the front lines where our ear is continually greeted with the sound of bullets that they become careless and will stand up in full view of the Rebels when the distance is not more than 400 yards between them; and thus, numbers are killed and wounded.

            I saw a most sickening sight this morning; the unfortunate man belonged to the 123rd Indiana and was shot through the jugular vein near the collar bone. He was speedily placed on a litter and started for the rear; he would hallo and scream and as he each time drew his breath; great streams of blood would shoot and spurt out just as I have seen a hog when the butcher’s knife had penetrated his heart. He would flounce and roll on the litter in his blood until his hands and face were covered and hair completely saturated with gore. A few moments sufficed, his heart’s blood had ebbed, and he calmly lay; unsightly and unearthly as he looked, sleeping in death. No day passed but I see more or less of those poor unfortunate victims who in one short minute and in so unsuspecting a time have been hurried from time to eternity. How calm some look with the flush still settled on their cheeks and a smile on their countenance, one would scarcely think them dead, but such is war and such are the scenes we witness from day to day. So far as we are from our sanitary stores and little delicacies no needful to the wounded that it makes it extremely hard on the sick and wounded.

"The Rebs are getting very religious and someone preaches every evening."

            Since my last,  no change has taken place in our immediate front; in fact, we are so close to the Johnnies that we cannot go further without a collision for now nothing but a little river separates us. In fact, we can hear a Rebel sermon almost every night. The Rebs are getting very religious and someone preaches every evening. As to what is going on in the other parts of the line I know but little.

But one thing I do know, and that is that someone got up a thundering fight last night at 1 o’clock. It was most terrible fighting and lasted for the length of three-quarters of an hour when the cannon would send forth their discharges, the whole heavens were illuminated. It was so far off that I could scarcely hear the small arms as they mingled in their sharp peals with the booming of the cannon. This morning the universal question is ‘Who was fighting last night, and what is the result?’ Some said that our left charged and carried Kennesaw Mountain. Another said the 4th Corps charged and carried their works, capturing many persons. But I don’t think either of them correct; but from a Christian Mission man who stayed near where the fighting occurred last night I learned that the 4th Corps moved up their lines and were busily engaged fortifying when the Rebels attacked them in force. Our men were aware of their approach and were prepared to give them a warm reception, which they did, completely routing them, killing and wounded hundreds and taking many prisoners. So, the Rebels, as usual, got licked in their charge.

Some important movement I think is now on hand and stirring times may soon be expected here.

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