Making a Pepper Box of His Coat: Carrying the Colors of the 40th Indiana

 At the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Sergeant James H. Seaman received three musket balls through his woolen blanket, one through his hat, one through his right arm, and 27 through his flag as he reached the top of the Confederate breastworks.


The 40th Indiana Volunteer Infantry served its entire three year term with the Army of the Cumberland or its predecessor, the Army of Ohio. After Shiloh and through Franklin, Sergeant James H. Seaman of Co. C carried the regimental colors through more than 30 engagements and lived to tell the tale. 

          At 65 years of age, James H. Seaman of Martinsville, Indiana sat down with a local reporter to discuss his three years’ service during the Civil War. “He never shirked a duty that came to him and is proud of the record made by his boys in blue from ’61 to ’65,” the reporter explained. “Mr. Seaman was the color bearer of the 40th Indiana regiment of volunteers and carried the stars and stripes through 30 battles and was wounded only one time, although as an evidence of many close calls, 17 bullets passed through his clothes during various engagements in which he participated.”

          Mr. Seaman enlisted on November 15, 1861, at Brown’s Valley in Co. C of the 40th Indiana Volunteers for three years. His regiment went into camp at Lafayette and remained there until December 24th then moved to Indianapolis and on the 31st went to Louisville, Kentucky. From there they went on to Nashville, Tennessee, then to Shiloh and took part in the battle there on April 7, 1862

          On April 16, 1862, he was promoted to second sergeant of his company and became the color bearer of the 40th Indiana. They took part in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, and after the Confederates evacuated Corinth, the regiment was sent into east Tennessee where they remained until August of that year. Then the army made the terrible retrograde movement back into Kentucky and on October 8, 1862, took part in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. The loss of the regiment in this battle was very small.

          After this, they were sent to Nashville where they remained until December 26th. Then they broke camp and started on the Murfreesboro campaign. The 40th Indiana took quite a conspicuous part in the Battle of Stones River on December 31, 1862. Just to the left of the railroad, Mr. Seaman had his flag shot to pieces over his head and he was knocked down. Three of his color guards were killed and two more were wounded. Three in his company were killed and three more wounded all at the same time by a shell from a Rebel battery directly in their front across the river. In this battle Seaman had four balls shot through his blouse and one through his hat. On January 1st, 1863, they did not do much fighting, only to gain position for the final blow on January 2nd. The Rebels were then driven from the field, the dead buried, and on the 5th, the Union army moved into Murfreesboro and remained there in camp until June.

Corporal William G. Cook
Co. B, 40th Indiana Infantry

          Then they started on the Chattanooga campaign. In this campaign, they did not do much fighting as they were sent north of Chattanooga on Walden’s Ridge to watch the moves of the Johnnies. The enemy evacuated the city the latter part of August and on September 2nd, Seaman’s brigade crossed the Tennessee River and drove the rear guard of the Rebs from the city. His brigade was the first infantry troops to enter Chattanooga. They were stationed in the city as post guards, and by this move they did not take any part in the battle of Chickamauga which was fought September 19th and 20th 1863.

          After the army fell back to Chattanooga, they were constantly on the skirmish line, and it was “pull dick-pull devil” to see who should hold their own. In the battle of Missionary Ridge, he had his blouse shot full of holes. Three bullets lodged in his woolen blanket that he had across his shoulder, one went through his hat, and 27 pierced his flag. He was shot through the right arm just as he reached the top of the Rebel breastworks in making a charge. His company lost seven killed and 20 wounded in this battle.

          He was not able to go to Knoxville with his regiment and did not see any more service until April 1864. On May 5th, 1864, they broke camp and started on the Atlanta campaign. At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27th, the Johnnies again tried to make a pepper box of his old coat by shooting it full of holes. Six bullets went through his coat in this battle. The army got possession of Atlanta on September 2nd and remained in camp there until September 25th. Then they were ordered back to Chattanooga to watch the movements of Hood’s army that had left Atlanta to invade Tennessee and Kentucky. They engaged Hood’s army in several small battles and skirmishes around Columbia, Tennessee and Spring Hill before the Battle of Franklin which was fought November 30th, 1864. This was one of the hardest fought battles of the war in proportion to the number of men engaged and the duration of the battle. Mr. Seaman’s term of enlistment expired November 15th, 1864, and he was discharged at Nashville on December 8, 1864.


          Sergeant James H. Seaman passed away March 24, 1912, and is buried at Hillsdale Cemetery in Martinsville, Indiana.


“Reminiscences of a Civil War Veteran: James H. Seaman Passed Through Many Battles and Skirmishes in the Civil War.” The Reporter-Times (Indiana), April 28, 1906, pg. 2


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