All for our dear country: the 74th Indiana and Chickamauga

 In the days following the battle of Chickamauga, First Lieutenant Lawrence “Lank” Gates of the 74th Indiana struggled with his emotions when he thought of the cost of battle. “When I look back a few days since to think what a change has taken place in our own company, the tears start from my eyes and I find no words to express my feelings,” he wrote home. Chickamauga was the regiment’s first serious engagement, and the 74th lost 165 men out of the 376 that went into action, Gates’ own company losing 17 men killed, wounded, or missing. Gates’ closest friend, a lieutenant in Co. D, received a mortal wound on September 19th and died the following day. “I hardly know how to replace his loss as we were the best of friends and constantly together,” Gates lamented. “I can only state our boys’ own words when I talked with them before they were breathing their last when they said, ‘We know we are going, but we are willing to die. It is all for our dear country.”

74th Indiana Monument at Chickamauga

          Looking back on the days leading up to the battle, Gates described the campaign as follows. “We were kept a bobbing around from one place to another every day last week and on Friday afternoon [September 18th] were called to fall in in quick time to move to the left as the enemy were trying to get around us and reach Chattanooga. We were then in Walker County, Georgia and pushed east. We traveled all night and consequently did not get any sleep. A little after daylight we stopped and were ordered to get some coffee, but before we could get it boiled, the aides were flying around hurrying our division up.

We had to go and forward we went and soon took our position in the woods. The 10th Indiana and our regiment were pushed a little forward when all at once, the Rebel cavalry charged upon us. We met them and poured a volley into their ranks upon which they turned and left much faster than they came, leaving behind them a good many horses and riders. Immediately afterwards, their artillery opened upon us with shot and shell, canister and grape, but it only went over our heads as we dropped on the ground. Infantry came next and then the rattling of musketry began. Being in contact, however, with too heavy a force, we were obliged to fall back some during which time we filled up again with ammunition. About 1 o’clock our regiment went forward again with 60 rounds to each man. It was at this charge of our whole brigade that we encountered one whole division of Rebels consisting of 14 regiments of Longstreet’s eastern troops. That we fought bravely, even if against greater force, you can judge from the loss that we suffered.

Having been stung on my foot by a scorpion about two weeks ago [most likely by a Plain Eastern Stripeless Scorpion which is native to northern Georgia], my foot was so sore and painful and became more so on Saturday marching over rocks and stones about in the woods that on Saturday evening I had to leave the field and did not return until Monday. Consequently, I was not in the second day’s fight. Captain George and myself were not touched but one ball cut my blouse at my right side although the missiles of all sorts flew thick and fast around me. Captain Georgie is again laid up with a severe rheumatic complaint and is with our train across the river. [Captain George would resign in early October, leaving Gates in command of Co. H]”

74th Indiana Infantry Regimental Colors with Chickamauga battle honor (Indiana Historical Society)

A few weeks later, Gates again wrote home to describe the progress of affairs at Chattanooga, and to share this story about a remarkable reunion of brothers that occurred under his watch. “I took command of 65 men from our regiment to go out on picket duty; arrived at my post and placed the sentinels in their proper places,” he wrote. “I then took a look at the pickets of the enemy who were only 50 or 60 rods in front of us behind trees and in bushes watching us. At intervals we could see them very distinctly and being anxious myself to get a Rebel paper, I took a late copy of the Nashville Union out of my pocket and gave it a swing over my head. Almost at the same time the same act was performed by the Rebel officer who had been watching me. I stepped out in sight and entered the open field which lay between us and there about midway we met and shook hands, exchanged papers, and entered into conversation upon various topics which lasted for 15 minutes. I also made an agreement with him to allow two brothers to see each other under our supervision, one of which was a Rebel and the other a Union soldier and had not seen each other since they left home over two years.”

"What must have been their thoughts when they first met; to be brothers and yet be enemies towards each other. The first greeting was the same as though it was time of peace and happiness. Yet I saw plainly in their countenances that there were thoughts there which were not expressed in words. Both seemed to be sincere in their conversation about this war, yet their language was kind and brotherly," Gates wrote.

“At 12 o’clock I had agreed to signal him again and it was then that Asa Owen met his brother Tom Owen. They met as brothers, shook hands, and were soon engaged in talking over home affairs. We allowed them to converse until nearly 5 o’clock when they parted, perhaps forever. What must have been their thoughts when they first met; to be brothers and yet be enemies towards each other. The first greeting was the same as though it was time of peace and happiness. Yet I saw plainly in their countenances that there were thoughts there which were not expressed in words. Both seemed to be sincere in their conversation about this war, yet their language was kind and brotherly. They were (or at least seemed to be) in good spirits. There is something curious or strange about those two brothers which is this- both enlisted in October 1861 and at present one is fourth sergeant in Co. I, 4th Kentucky Regiment, C.S.A., while the other is fourth sergeant in Co. I of the 4th Kentucky Regiment, U.S.A.”

~First Lieutenant Lawrence Gates, Co. H, 74th Indiana Infantry, Steuben Republican (Indiana), October 10, 1863, pg. 1 and November 7, 1863, pg. 1


The above collection of 74th Indiana reunion ribbons is currently up for auction on eBay. 


Comments

  1. Great post! My 3rd-great granduncle Pvt. David K. Elder, Company A, 74th IN, was wounded at Chickamauga and later died of his wounds at Andersonville. Wish I could know where Company A was exactly in the fighting. I have 4 direct ancestors who served in the 74th. It was truly a family affair. Hoo hoo hoosier!

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