In the Center at Chickamauga
Gil Stormont of the 58th Indiana numbered himself amongst those “lucky” enough to have a front row seat at the most dramatic moment of the Battle of Chickamauga: Longstreet’s assault upon the Federal center on September 20, 1863.
It all happened by accident. His company had been sent out as skirmishers that morning and when Longstreet’s attack began, Stormont ran back across Brotherton Field to rejoin the regiment only to find that they were gone. He fell in with the ranks of the nearby 13th Michigan. “The Rebels came on us in columns eight or ten deep and there being only two regiments to contend against them, we poured volley after volley into them, but still they came,” Stormont informed his sister. “They came within 20 yards of us and there they stood loading and firing as impudent as you please; they, however, did not have much effect on us as we were protected somewhat, but we could see them fall in piles from our firing.”
Then the Confederates charged and forced the 13th Michigan to retreat. In the ensuing chaos, Stormont was lucky to escape with his life. “I went about 20 steps when a cannon ball came so close to my head that it stunned me and knocked me head over heels,” he wrote. “I lay there a short time and when I came to again, the Rebels were nearly right upon me. I got up and started again when a ball struck me on the upper lip and knocked me down again. I would not give up yet, however, so I started again and this time lost my hat and gun and hadn’t time to stop and get them. I finally got away safe but was nearly exhausted from the loss of blood and effect of the shell.”
The 58th Indiana was part of Colonel George P. Buell’s First Brigade of General Thomas Wood’s First Division of the 21st Army Corps, serving alongside the 100th Illinois, 13th Michigan, and 26th Ohio regiments. Corporal Stormont later became Colonel Stormont, going on to a successful business career in newspapers and publishing as well as serving as Department of Indiana commander for the Grand Army of the Republic in 1890-1891. “Gil” Stormont’s letter describing the battle of Chickamauga originally saw publication in the October 31, 1863, edition of the Princeton Clarion.
October 2, 1863
This evening I seat myself after a long interval of silence to write you a few lines, thereby giving you some information of my whereabouts, welfare, etc. In the first place I have the welcome intelligence to give you that I although I have been in one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the war, I am still alive and in pretty good health. But I suppose you are anxious to hear the full particulars of the fight and I will proceed to give you some of the most particular events within my knowledge.
On Friday evening September 18th, the Rebels appeared in force in front of General Wood’s division posted at Owen’s Ford on the Chickamauga River. They, however, did not appear to be designing an attack but seemed to be menacing along our lines for the purpose of attracting our attention while at the same time large bodies of troops could be seen moving to our left. About dusk, they fell heavily upon a portion of Wilder’s brigade guarding a ford below us [Alexander’s Bridge] and drove them back and gained possession of the ford. Being reinforced, they afterward charged on the enemy and drove them back to the ford, but the Rebels held the ford and, in the night, they massed a considerable force on this side of the river.
During the night, our army was nearly all transported from our right to our left at which point the force of the enemy seemed strongest. The fight began on our left about 9 a.m. and raged fearfully all day, Wood’s division still held the same position until about 10 a.m. when we were ordered to move on the double quick to reinforce on the left. We arrived on the scene of conflict about the time it reached the hottest. We found our troops giving back while the Rebels were coming in overwhelming numbers. We quickly formed in line and as soon as our retreating forces were past us, we charged on the Rebels, checking their advance for a time. [The 58th Indiana initially deployed on the west side of the Lafayette Road near Viniard Field around 3:30 p.m.; the Federal troops Stormont describes as retreating past them were from Carlin’s and Barnes’ brigades. Barnes was struck on his right flank by Trigg’s brigade and bolted from the field around 4 o’clock, throwing Carlin’s regiments into disarray and spreading the panic.]
Companies B and G on the left of our regiment were pushed into a little thicket of pines and we run upon the Rebels who poured a deadly volley into our ranks, killing or wounding nearly half our company before we had been in the fight 15 minutes. The Rebels made a charge on our lines and we were forced to give way- the first time the 58th Indiana had to retreat. The order was given to fall back and all the regiment was gone and left our company before we were aware. The Rebels came within ten steps of us as they supposed we had surrendered and their commander ordered them to cease firing- we didn’t surrender but got up and ran! They, however, did get two or three of our company. They came on after us with a yell but we formed in behind some rude works and soon sent them back. [Stormont is describing the attack of General Henry Benning’s brigade which took place between 4:30-5 p.m. Benning’s brigade would cross the Lafayette Road in pursuit of the Federals only to be held in check by Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. Buell’s brigade fell back behind Wilder’s line to reform.]
The rest of the evening was spent in changing from one side of the field to the other and at night we held the same positions as when we first began. The 58th Indiana was in the front that night and as a great many of us lost our knapsacks and blankets, we suffered with cold. I lost my knapsacks and everything I had.
|This monument to the 58th Indiana stands in Viniard Field at Chickamauga. (Steven Markos)|
Sabbath morning, we found our position somewhat farther around to the left and it was 9 o’clock before we got into position and by that time the Rebels had attacked Thomas and were fighting terribly. Company B was thrown to the front of our line as skirmishers and we kept up a constant firing all the time. A part of our brigade was sent to the left to reinforce that part of the line when the Rebels came upon us. Our company being lost from the regiment, the greater part of them got in with other regiments and awaited the attack by the Rebels. I was with the 13th Michigan who were behind some logs forming a kind of breastwork. [Buell’s brigade had moved into a position on the west side of the ridge overlooking Brotherton Field in the Federal center that morning and thus landed in what would be the epicenter of Longstreet’s assault.]
The Rebels came on us in columns eight or ten deep and there being only two regiments to contend against them, we poured volley after volley into them, but still they came. They came within 20 yards of us and there they stood loading and firing as impudent as you please; they, however, did not have much effect on us as we were protected somewhat, but we could see them fall in piles from our firing. Soon they made a charge on us and the first thing I knew, our men were nearly all gone and the Rebels were climbing over the breastworks on my right. Now I though it was my time to clean up so I got up and started. I went about 20 steps when a cannon ball came so close to my head that it stunned me and knocked me head over heels. [Stormont and the 13th Michigan were struck by Fulton’s brigade of Tennesseans as it charged across Brotherton Field.]
|The veterans of the 58th Indiana erected this regimental monument in Princeton, Indiana and dedicated it to their fallen comrades. The monument was built in 1864 and numbers amongst the oldest Civil War monuments in Indiana.|
I lay there a short time and when I came to again, the Rebels were nearly right upon me. I got up and started again when a ball struck me on the upper lip and knocked me down again. I would not give up yet, however, so I started again and this time lost my hat and gun and hadn’t time to stop and get them. I finally got away safe but was nearly exhausted from the loss of blood and effect of the shell. By this time, the retreat had become general and it seemed as if annihilation of the grand old Army of the Cumberland was almost certain. I was sent back with a train to Chattanooga and from personal observation I cannot say much more about the battle, but you have doubtless read it all in the papers.
All the wounded who were able were sent by a train of wagons to Bridgeport and there we were put on the cars and sent to this place where we arrived about a week ago. We were put in the Cumberland Hospital and stayed there a few days and those who were most able were sent to the convalescent camp where we are yet. But I am able for duty now and am going back to the regiment in a few days.
Letter from Corporal Gilbert Riley Stormont, Co. B, 58th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Princeton Clarion (Indiana), October 31, 1863, pg. 1