Losing Our Battery: At the railroad cut at Atlanta

            Corporal James G. Eastwood, a veteran artillerist in Battery A of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery, had seen action at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Missionary Ridge, but none of those battles could hold a candle to what he experienced on the afternoon of July 22, 1864 outside of Atlanta, Georgia. “This is the roughest we were ever handled,” he later confessed.

          The Woodstock, Illinois native joined in battery in February 1862 and when it mustered out of service on July 12, 1864, Eastwood along with other 1862 enlistees and those who chose to veteranize, was consolidated with like men from Battery B of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery to form a “new” Battery A. Lieutenant Theodore W. Raub of Battery F took command of one section of guns while Lieutenant Samuel S. Smith of Battery B took command of another; overall command of the six-gun battery fell to 24-yar-old Captain Francis De Gress of Battery H who was chief of artillery for the division. Both batteries were assigned to the Second Division (General Morgan L. Smith) of “Black Jack” Logan’s 15th Army Corps.

The scene of Corporal Eastwood's account; a depiction of the railroad cut at Atlanta on July 22, 1864 from the Cyclorama. 

          “Not having enough men to run the battery, a detail of infantry was obtained,” Eastwood wrote. “On July 20th, we advanced with the 17th Corps on the extreme left, the 15th, 16th, and 23rd Corps joining on the right while the Second Division of the 15th Corps was placed on the railroad. We skirmished with the enemy all day and discovered that they had a line of works about two and half miles from Atlanta. One section of our battery was ordered to the skirmish line and one arriving there we could plainly see the Rebels and one piece of their artillery. General Logan ordered us to fire on that gun and on doing so their replied with it and two others, making it pretty warm for the boys. One shell burst under the gun, killing one man instantly and mortally wounding another. The General thought it was pretty rough and ordered us to pull out which we did pretty lively I can tell you. That night we threw up breastworks and the next day the 17th Corps made a charge and gained a splendid position but lost middling heavy.”

          Early on the morning of the 22nd, we discovered that the Rebels had fallen back in front of the 15th Corps and our skirmishers advanced three quarters of a mile without meeting much opposition and after some heavy skirmishing, they found the Rebels had another line of works. Our while line immediately advanced as far as the works the Rebels had evacuated and formed behind them, the pioneers going immediately to work to remodel them. About 9 a.m. heavy firing commenced on the extreme left; the 17th Corps not having advanced, the firing was nearly in our rear. We kept our position however, though the firing kept getting heavier on the left all the time. Stragglers and non-combatants came rushing back with the cry “we are all cut to pieces” but the firing gradually ceased, and we knew that our men held their position. The 16th and 17th Corps repulsed the Rebels, killing or wounding hundreds of them, as well as capturing a great many.

          After the Rebels were repulsed on the left, they immediately shifted their men to the front of the 15th Corps and advanced to our works, which, not being completely remodeled, were not very formidable. We gave them canister, shot, and shell, but the works not being fixed for artillery, we could not depress our guns enough to do much execution. On they came; our infantry support broke and ran on seeing the enemy so close and they came over our works right among us. A great many of the battery boys ran, and other thinking it was no use to run, surrendered. Most of those that ran escaped, but some were badly wounded. The boys in reality fired the guns after they were in the hands of the Rebels.

A depiction of the Confederate capture of Captain De Gress' battery on July 22, 1864. 
(The Mountain Campaigns of Georgia)

          James W. Porter, acting orderly sergeant of the battery, when he saw the Rebels come over the walls, laid down beside Lieutenant Raub who had been killed and then Rebels ran over him and all around them. He would hear them dragging off our guns and cursing the Yanks and said they seemed very much excited. He lay there an hour and a half under two fires and was finally relieved by our men making a charge and driving the Rebels back. He took a musket and went out with the infantry and brought in two prisoners.

          That night we occupied the same position as in the morning behind the Rebel works. The battery sustained a loss of 20 men: four killed, seven wounded, and nine captured. We also lost most of our horses and four guns and both commissioned officer in the battery; Lieutenant Smith being captured and Raub killed. They were both brave officers. This is a little the roughest we were ever handled. The Second Division lost 300 men killed and wounded and 400 captured, but our loss was slight compared to the Rebels.

          On the 23rd, large details were busy burying the Rebels’ and our dead and at night they were not all buried. We have drawn two new guns making a four-gun battery and we are busy organizing our battery.

A lengthy discussion of the capture of De Gress' battery can be viewed here. 


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