The Solemn Realities of War: A Hoosier Greenhorn Sees the Elephant at Perryville
The opening moments of the Battle of Perryville were both exciting and frightening for 40-year-old Private Joseph Glezen of the 80th Indiana Infantry. The former attorney and newspaper editor had enlisted as a private in the ranks of Co. H only a month before, and now stood facing an advancing line of veteran Confederate infantry, and soon discovered a horrifying fact: his musket would not fire.
“At the word fire, we all pulled trigger together and were directed to load and fire at will. Many of our guns were defective, and when I rammed down my second cartridge I discovered that my gun contained two loads. I reprimed, however, and thought I would double the dose by firing two balls at once, but my gun again refused to fire. I again retired down the hill, took off the tube, picked the powder in the touch hole, primed, advance, and made the third attempt to fire, but there was not sufficient power in the lock to burst the cap. I stood and snapped four times but in vain. I then threw down my gun in disgust, picked up another, tried it with the ramrod and found it like mine- containing two loads. I picked up a second musket and it was in the same condition, a third ditto, and the fourth had a load just about one foot from the muzzle. I then concluded to get out of the way myself as I did not like to be a target for traitors without at least an equal chance with them,” he wrote.
The 80th Indiana had mustered into service September 5, 1862 at Camp Gibson in Princeton, Indiana and three days later “with arms and uniforms and nothing else” was sent to the defenses of Cincinnati. A few short weeks later, the regiment was sent to Louisville where it was assigned to the 34th Brigade under Colonel George J. Webster (98th Ohio) along with three other rookie regiments: the 50th, 98th, and 121st Ohio regiments, along with Captain Samuel Harris’ six-gun 19th Indiana Battery. As part of General James S. Jackson’s division, Webster’s brigade was shellacked at Perryville and Webster himself was killed, brigade losses totaling 645 men.
Joseph Glezen would serve with the 80th Indiana for the remainder of the war, eventually gaining promotion to the rank of captain. His account of Perryville was first published in the January 17, 1863 edition of the Princeton Clarion-Ledger.
On the 8th day of October, just one month from the day we left Camp Gibson, the Battle of Chaplin Hills was fought. About 2 p.m., we arrived on the field at a point about two miles from Perryville and were placed in support of Harris’ battery at the extreme right of the left wing; General Lovell Rousseau commanding the right and the James Jackson the left. We were in Jackson’s division. The position we of the 80th Indiana occupied was in an open field. Harris’ battery was 20 paces in front and a little to our right on the top of a ridge descending considerably both to the front and rear. About 200 yards in front of us was a piece of woodland where the enemy was concealed, and on another ridge about 250 yards to our rear at the edge of a narrow strip of timber was a wagon road running parallel with our line of battle. To the right of our front, being in front of the extreme left of Rousseau’s division, there was a cornfield.
The following rough sketch, hastily drawn, will give you a fair idea of our fighting ground and its immediate vicinity. I do not attempt to draft it by an accurate scale for the line of battle was four miles in length. The dotted Federal line is only intended to exhibit an alignment; there were no Federal troops stationed between the 80th Indiana and the corner of the cornfield.
|Joseph P. Glezen's rough sketch showing the position of the 80th Indiana at Perryville|
As soon as we took our positions and had loaded our muskets, we were ordered to lie down on our faces and wait for the enemy to make their appearance in front of us. I suppose we remained in this position half an hour and it was truly a serious time for we were then for the first time with the most of us about to experience the solemn realties of war.
Whilst we were thus listening to the roaring of musketry and the thunder of artillery, the whistling of bullets above us and the bursting of shells around us, the men lying at my right exclaiming, “Glezen, isn’t this terrible?” I replied that it was really sublime. He said he was unable to discover anything sublime about it. I remarked that it was both grand and solemn, and that was what I meant by the term. Said he, “Don’t you wish you had not enlisted?” To this I made no reply. A moment afterwards something struck my hat with such violence as to mash it over my face, the inside edge of the rim inflicting a scratch on my nose (a member of my body that is always in the war of objects passing) so as to draw blood at the same time the man at my right cried out “Glezen is killed!” I knew this to be a mistake, but turned to look for the unwelcome intruder and found a six-pound cannon ball about two feet from me on my left, having struck on the hill near the battery and bounced, angling, and after striking my hat, mashed the head and killed Milton Spraggins who was lying immediately to my left and finally lodged against the side and arm of his brother Jesse was who still at his left. After having rolled the ball down the hill with my left hand, not knowing but it might contain combustible materials, my first impulse was to make a slight change in my position, but then it occurred to my mind that lightning was never known to strike twice in the same place, the same might be true in respect to cannon balls, so I remained quiet.
Soon after this we were ordered to “rise and fire.” Now came the tug of war for at this time the bullets were whistling over us with such fury that it seemed as if no man could stand erect and live. But at the word of command, we all bounded to our feet like so many parched peas, determined to pour the contents of our muskets into the ranks of our ungodly opposers. Before firing, it was necessary to advance about two rods to the top of the hill in order to bring our arms to bear against the enemy. And even then they kept so well concealed behind trees that only a few could be seen. Notwithstanding this, our bullets found them in their hiding places and strewed the ground with their mutilated carcasses, the legitimate fruits of their own treason and folly.
As we advanced to give the first fire, I did not quite relish the music of the bullets as they whistled around my ears and I presume you will not disbelieve me when I say that I felt a little more pleasant at home by the side of a coal oil lamp reading an account of the battle in the columns of the Cincinnati Commercial. At the word fire, we all pulled trigger together and were directed to load and fire at will. Many of our guns were defective, and when I rammed down my second cartridge I discovered that my gun contained two loads. I reprimed, however, and thought I would double the dose by firing two balls at once, but my gun again refused to fire. I again retired down the hill, took off the tube, picked the powder in the touch hole, primed, advance, and made the third attempt to fire, but there was not sufficient power in the lock to burst the cap. I stood and snapped four times but in vain. I then threw down my gun in disgust, picked up another, tried it with the ramrod and found it like mine- containing two loads. I picked up a second musket and it was in the same condition, a third ditto, and the fourth had a load just about one foot from the muzzle. I then concluded to get out of the way myself as I did not like to be a target for traitors without at least an equal chance with them. (Glezen’s brigade mates in the 121st Ohio also had great difficulty with faulty muskets at Perryville, see here.)
|Sergeant Enos H. Kirk|
Co. E, 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry
So I went down about four rods and laid down behind a stump with a couple of wounded men from my company and remained there for perhaps two minutes though it was a poor place for a soldier. I got up to renew my search for a gun that would fire and picked up two more near the stump with loads half way down the barrel. I finally found a musket on the fighting ground of Co. C (Captain James L. Culbertson commanding) that was empty, loaded her, and when I pulled the trigger the man behind the gun felt it very sensibly though I cannot say what effect it had on the man at the other end. On counting my cartridges after the battle I found that I had discharged 15 rounds. This was far below an average for besides the time I lost before I got hold of a gun that would fired, I was not so experienced in the use of firearms. Some, after having exhausted their 40 rounds of cartridges, replenished from the boxes of the killed and wounded.
The firing between the 80th Indiana and the enemy in front was incessant and for near four hours, we maintaining our ground all that time against a whole brigade of Rebels and twice repulsed them when attempting to storm the battery. Finally the firing in front of us subsided and the Rebels were seen passing through a cornfield opposite the left of Rousseau’s division and to our right. The Federal line gradually gave way before them but kept up a brisk fire as they receded. The enemy were now within range of our muskets and a slight change of position enabled us to pour a destructive fire into their ranks as they gradually advanced on the retreating columns of General Rousseau. The 80th Indiana there performed services that will never be known in history for it is reasonable to suppose that all of the killed and wounded in front of Rousseau’s lines would be claimed for him. By degrees, the right wing continued to give way and at the same time about the same kind of operation was in progress at our left which left us on a curve line, exposing us to a destructive crossfire.
Just at this crisis, when we were in immediate danger of being surrounded, Harris’ battery drove past us to the rear about as fast as artillery horses are in the habit of traveling, and Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Brooks was ordered to fall back and take a position at the road on the hill about 150 yards to our rear. This was done in better order then I have sometimes witnessed at a bayonet charge on battalion drill.
We there formed a line of battle and gave the Rebels a few well-directed rounds, but owing to the continued falling back of the Federal lines to our right and left, our position became untenable and we were directed to fall back about 300 yards further where we again took our position in support of Harris’ battery which had already commenced thundering from its new position. Here a new line was established, but night soon came and the firing gradually ceased and we lay on our arms until midnight. We then removed to a point one mile to the rear on the Harrodsburg road where another line of battle was formed on what was adjudged better ground for defensive operations as we expected an attack in the morning. But the Rebels took advantage of the shades of night to make good their retreat, leaving the battlefield in our possession.
History may fail to render the officers of the 80th Indiana due credit for their energy, coolness, and courage in the memorable Battle of Chaplin Hills, but those who participated in that bloody conflict will not fail to award them the credit due them for their gallant conduct on that occasion. The young and intrepid Lieutenant Colonel Brooks commanded the regiment, a regiment of raw, undisciplined troops only one month from the peaceful avocations of civil life. Our flag received seven bullet holes and we lost in killed and wounded 150 men. (Major Simonson reported losses as 24 killed, 117 wounded, and 33 missing out of the 450 men engaged in the fight. "Our casualties are grievous, indeed.")
Diary of Joseph P. Glezen, Co. H, 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, published as “The Battle of Perryville: Abstract from the Diary of One Who Was There,” Princeton Clarion-Ledger (Indiana), January 17, 1863, pg. 1
Letter from Major George Simonson, Princeton Clarion-Ledger (Indiana), October 25, 1862, pg. 1
 Corporal Milton Spraggins of Winslow, Indiana would die of his wounds October 20, 1862 at Perryville, Kentucky.
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