The Cost of Gallantry: A Voice from the 18th U.S. Infantry

 “It was necessary for a sacrifice to be made to save the army and we made it.”     Captain Henry Haymond, Second Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry

 

      The Regular Brigade as part of General Lovell H. Rousseau's division went into action about mid-morning on December 31, 1862, going into line in the cedar forest north of the Wilkinson Pike in an attempt to hold this portion of the line. Caught in a blizzard of bullets, the Regulars stumbled out of the forest towards the Nashville Pike where they reformed, and went back in again. The combat here was at short-range and brutal; the Regulars lost a third of their numbers but as Captain Haymond states above, "It was necessary for a sacrifice to be made to save the army and we made it." 

    In the aftermath of the Battle of Stones River, Major Frederick Townsend commanding the Second Battalion of the 18th U.S. Infantry composed his after-action report and took pains to call out for special attention the gallantry of some of his enlisted men. “I beg leave to call the attention of the brigade commander to the following enlisted men of my battalion who were conspicuous for their gallantry in the engagement of the 31st,” he wrote. Among the names cited was a young Ohio soldier named William H. Maxwell, a private serving in Co. B.

In the course of the fighting on the evening December 31st, Private Maxwell received a severe wound from a Minie ball that shattered the radius of his left arm. Two weeks later he composed the following letter while recuperating at the old Meredith Building, now General Hospital No. 6 located at College Street [now 3rd Avenue] near Broad in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It was originally published in the January 30, 1863, edition of the Delaware Gazette.

 

Among William Maxwell's comrades on the field at Stones River was a young drummer boy named Jimmy Doyle who would join Maxwell in the ranks of the wounded nine months later at the Battle of Chickamauga. Doyle served in Co. B of the 18th U.S. Infantry. 

General Hospital No. 6, Nashville, Tennessee

January 13, 1863

          We have just passed through one of the hardest fought and bloodiest battles every fought in the United States. On the morning of the 26th of December 1862, we passed through Nashville en route for Murfreesboro and on the 30th came into the vicinity of the battleground, the elements of war were resting and appeared ready to burst in every quarter. General McCook, with his corps, drew the first heavy fire and made the attack, the firing became general all along the whole line from right to left, day after day, for five days we moved from point to point to strengthen the weak divisions where the enemy could make the strongest assault. Day after day the battle grew fiercer and more furious, time and time again our men had to back from their positions and with renewed vigor would regain their lost ground.

          On the 31st, early in the morning, the battle was again renewed which I think was the hardest day’s fight and the greatest slaughter of men during the whole action. It appeared that the heavens had for weeks and months reserved her thunders for that day as vapor and smoke darkened the horizon and it seemed as if the heavens and earth were rolled together as a scroll and if the elements would melt with heat, for surely it was a hot place.

A monument to the sacrifice of the Regular Brigade is located at Stones River National Cemetery. 

That day fixed the destiny of thousands of good soldiers. The battle line was formed into three divisions, the right, left, and center and on that day the 18th Regulars were placed in advance on the right of the center column where the enemy had the evening before taken our ground. Here we held our position steadily until the afternoon though we were confronted by three columns to our one with the full intention of breaking our center. We stood them until the right wing gave way, and as soon as it gave way, we were exposed to a crossfire which raked our regiment so that there was but few left, and we were compelled to fall back.

 

“I was struck by a ball three inches above the right breast. It slightly lacerated the lung and did not pass through, but it is somewhere in the chest. Our regiment is a poor wreck: three officers killed, eleven wounded, and two-thirds of the ranks hors du combat. This most dearly bought victory is worth the price. I pay mine cheerfully.” ~Second Lieutenant Gilbert S. Carpenter, Co. A, 2nd Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry

 

          On the evening of that day, I was wounded in the left arm, the large bone of my arm was broken about two inches from the hand, the ball passing through the fleshy part of the arm and two or three inches below the shoulder. The next day our gallant Rosecrans rallied the men and that day and afterwards regained all our lost ground and put the aliens to flight.

          Our regiment went into the battle 760 as good soldiers as ever ate bread and came out with only 200, but I still think that a few more will be found living. If not, our regiment is pretty well used up. Till the close of the battle, I suffered very much and for several days after, but I am now in General Hospital No. 6 at Nashville, well cared for and doing well and from the nature of the wound not suffering as much as would be expected. How long it will be before I will be able to pop at the enemy of our country again, I cannot tell, but will await with patience till I can. Providence has brought me through thus far, and I trust Him for time to come.

 

Sources:

Letter from Private William H. Maxwell, Co. B, Second Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry, Delaware Gazette (Ohio), January 30, 1863, pg. 2

Letter from Second Lieutenant Gilbert S. Carpenter, Co. A, Second Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry, Summit County Beacon (Ohio), January 15, 1863, pg. 2

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