Thursday, June 9, 2005

A Civil War Story

The following is the story of my great-great-great-great uncle Hiram W. Thomas.

Late in the summer of 1862 after his wife Rachel gave birth to their second child, my 4G uncle Hiram enrolled to serve three years in the 88th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers, as a soldier in the Union forces. He enlisted in Company C at Leo, Indiana on August 8, 1862 and almost immediately he found himself in Camp Allen at Fort Wayne, Indiana. He and the rest of Company C left Camp Allen on August 26, 1862 and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana where he was mustered into service as a private on the 29th day of August 1862. He was 19 days short of being thirty-one years old. Three days after his mustering into government service, he was sent to Louisville, Kentucky. He arrived at Camp Yates, Kentucky on September 6, and on September 17 he had his first taste of warfare when the 88th Indiana went to the aid of General Nelson at Richmond, Kentucky.

A great deal of maneuvering was going on in Kentucky and Tennessee by the Confederate and Union forces in the late summer of 1862 and both sides were determined to control Kentucky. Confederate General Braxton Bragg commanded an army of thirty thousand men near Chattanooga and General Edmund Kirby-Smith had twelve thousand more at Knoxville. Suddenly these two began to move north toward Kentucky, while at the same time, the Army of the Ohio, of which the 88th Indiana was a part, was sitting at Louisville, Kentucky. On August 30, 1862, Kirby-Smith managed to surround Union General William Nelson at Richmond, Kentucky and captured 4,303 Union soldiers.

The men of the 88th Indiana left Louisville on October 1, 1862 under command of General Don Carlos Buell, and met Bragg's forces at Perryville, Kentucky where the Battle of Perryville was fought on October 8, 1862. Although it was an indecisive battle, Buell nevertheless claimed victory. Bragg, an unpredictable man, marched back to Tennessee but Buell failed to pursue him and General William S. Rosecrans replaced him in command. Perryville was the high-water mark of the Confederate invasion of Kentucky and never again did they penetrate that far northward in the West.

Rosecrans was popular with the troops and he was also a good fighter. He spent the weeks following his assumption of command refitting and reorganizing his army. For my 4G-uncle Hiram, the weeks after Perryville were mostly spent on the march from Perryville to Nashville, Tennessee, arriving on December 28. On December 31 and January 1, 2, and 3, they engaged the enemy at the Battle of Stones River not far from Nashville. Some 45,000 Union men under Rosecrans and 37,000 Confederates under Bragg fought a "desperate inconclusive battle on a desolate frozen field" at Stones River. For a time it appeared that the Union forces would be routed, but the men of General George H. Thomas 14th Army Corps, in the center of Rosecrans' line (of which Hiram's Company C was a part) hung on until the shattered troops of Rosecrans' right could regroup in the rear.

The sound of musket fire rose to such a deafening pitch that Confederate soldiers plucked raw cotton from the weedy fields and plugged up their ears. All this took place on December 31 and the next three days were more or less a standoff with sporadic firing from picket lines, but no real battles. Unaccountably, on the night of January 3, Bragg withdrew 36 miles to the south and Rosecrans moved into Murfreesboro. The number of men lost on both sides was shocking, fully one fourth of all the troops of both Armies. Few battles of the Civil War cost more in human lives.

The cost of this battle for my great-great-great-great uncle Hiram W. Thomas was enormous for he lost his life. He was wounded during the battle and removed from the field to Hospital number 21 where he died on January 29, 1863, five months to the day from his enlistment at Indianapolis on August 29, 1862. He left behind a widow and two children, the oldest child just six and the youngest one year old.


Anonymous said...

Will you please contact me? Your 4G uncle was the first husband of Rachel Lingafelt, who was step-mother to my 2G grandfather. Would love to know how you are descended and if you know more about Hiram's family.

Debbie Miller Lewis

Ed said...

I sent you a reply via your email address.