Hiram Parks Bell: In the War
The following is chapter 11 from Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things, published in 1907:
“The picnic phase of the war passed with the year 1861.
“The following year opened with the conviction universally prevailing that it would be protracted, stubborn, and bloody. The call of the government for more troops was urgent; and in response thereto, the Governor of Georgia issued his order for 12 regiments of volunteers, to serve three years, or during the war. Henry C. Kellogg raised one company of 100 men and the writer another of an equal number in Forsyth County. These companies repaired to Camp McDonald early in March, 1862, for organization into regiments. These two---‘E’ and ‘I’---Captains, Kellogg and Bell; two from Cherokee---‘A’ and ‘B’---Captains, Mullin and Grantham; two from Jackson---‘G’ and ‘H’---Captains, Story and Howard; two from Hall---‘F’ and ‘H’---Captains, Law and Reeves; one from Pickens---‘C’---Captain, Harris; and one from Banks---‘D’---Captain, Ragsdale, were formed into the Forty-third Regiment of Georgia Volunteers. The field officers elected to command it were: Skidmore Harris, Colonel; H.P. Bell, Lieutenant Colonel; and Henry C. Kellogg, Major. Early in April the regiment was ordered to Chattanooga, where it soon entered upon the usual experience of raw recruits---in sickness, superinduced by the change of habitats and comforts of home life, to the exposure, privation, and duties of life in the camp. Measles, flux, dysentery, and brain fever attacked the troops; some died and nearly all were more or less sick. In this condition of affairs, Brigadier-General Ledbetter, who was commanding at Chattanooga, was ordered to Bridgeport to defend the railroad bridge against General Mitchell, who, with a column six thousand strong from Buell’s army, was advancing to seize it. General Ledbetter gathered all of his soldiers that were able to move, not exceeding 500 in number, crossed the river and formed his line of battle on the west bank, sending out scouts under Lieutenant Rheinheart to ascertain and report the movements of the enemy. Starnes’ cavalry reported that the enemy was rapidly approaching in forces. Convinced of his inability to resist it, General Ledbetter ordered his troops to fall back across the river, which they did in order. Their camp equipage, knapsacks, etc. were placed on a hand-car to run over the bridge. After all had crossed except those in charge of the hand-car, and General Ledbetter, Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, and the writer, who were awaiting the return of the scouts, the enemy’s battery opened fire on us from the top of the hill with a storm of grape and canister. Rheinheart had been wounded and he and his scouts captured. We walked across the bridge in a tempest of balls and splinters from the battery, not 400 yards distant, without being struck. It was not a comfortable experience. The hand-car was behind us near the middle of the river. It struck me and knocked me from the plank upon which I was walking, and, but for the accident of falling diagonally across the bridge timbers, I would have gone to the bottom of the river. This episode added nothing to the comfort of the occasion. Just as the hand-car reached the end of the bridge, it ran over a soldier and cut off , entirely, both of his lower limbs at the trunk, and the poor fellow was wallowing in his blood and gasping in the agonies of a horrible death.
“The bridge was blown up and the advance of the enemy, by that means, arrested. This was my introduction ‘to the pomp and glorious circumstances of war.’
“When I entered the army, with the opinion entertained of the magnitude and duration of the war, I did not cherish the slightest hope of escaping death. In middle life, without military training or predilection, and honored with command, my only resource was to obey orders, do my duty, and perish rather than soil the escutcheon of my wife and children with the stain of cowardice. This I resolved to do and never faltered in keeping this resolution. The first test came at Bridgeport. I was in command of the regiment but so sick that I could scarcely stand on my feet, but I did stand all day, though in agony, and without complaint. When a field officer pleads sick in the hour of danger, the burden of proof is upon him. The result of this affair was an attack of fever that kept me in bed for three months, with the balance quivering in uncertainty most of the time. I rejoined the regiment the last of July, still feeble, in East Tennessee near Morristown.
“The regiment, then in Reynold’s brigade, was ordered to Cumberland Gap, then strongly fortified and occupied by the Federals under Gen. Morgan. There was a fight with the Federals, under DeCoursey, at Tazewell, resulting in DeCoursey’s defeat and his withdrawal and return to the gap. Nothing of interest occurred except occasional firing between the pickets and foraging parties of the hostile forces until the last of August, when, in conjunction with Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, Kirby Smith’s column crossed the Cumberland Mountains at Roger’s Gap and the Federals evacuated their stronghold and fell back toward the Ohio. Smith had a sharp engagement early in September with Nelson at Richmond in which he won a brilliant triumph over superior numbers, capturing many prisoners and a large amount of arms, etc., and completely routed the Federal forces. Bragg captured Mumsfordville, moving in the direction of Louisville; Smith moved to Lexington. We were then in the far-famed ‘Blue grass region of Kentucky.’ The counties of Fayette, Bourbon, Madison, Scott, Jessamine, and Harrison form the most beautiful country I ever beheld. Its broad, macadamized pikes, its palatial homes, its baronial farms, its expansive fields of blue grass, with their fat, sleek, grazing herds; its beautiful forests of walnut, beach, maple, and elms, touched with the first tints of autumn---all conspired to heighten its charms. But I confess to being absorbed in other thoughts. We were in the birthland of Lincoln and Davis, among a people the valor of whose forefathers, at Broadaze, Wisconsin Heights, Tippecanoe, Thames, New Orleans, Buena Vista, Cerro Gordo, Cherubusco, Chapultepec, and Molino del Rey, had shed the light of imperishable glory upon the chivalry of Kentuckians and the history of Kentucky---a State whose glorious history is illustrated with a long list of illustrious jurists, orators, statesmen, heroes and poets---with her Clays and Crittendens, her Marshalls and Breckenridges, her Prestons and Johnsons, her Prentices, Warfields and Welbys---a glorious list of names that eclipse the proudest that emblazon the escutcheon of Norman heraldry. A land whose men are brave as Caesar, and whose women, more beautiful than ‘the starry-eyed Sorceress of the Nile,’ was now hopelessly divided and trampling the flowers of this Eden in the blood of civil strife and fratricidal slaughter.
“Smith advanced to Covington, causing consternation in Cincinnati. I established and commanded the Confederate picket line in front of Covington.
“The result of this campaign was the evacuation of Nashville and Cumberland Gap by the Federals, the inauguration of Hawes, Governor at Frankfort, the capture of Mumsfordville by Bragg, the victory of Smith over Nelson at Richmond, and the bloody battle of Perryville. This battle was fought by Bragg after the Confederate retreat and Federal pursuit began. The Confederates captured a large number of prisoners and arms, besides securing and sending out a vast amount of commissary stores. Bragg returned to Murfreesboro; Smith, to Knoxville, and the Federal army to Nashville. I resigned my seat in the Senate, at Georgetown, Kentucky, in September, 1862, in time to elect a successor before the meeting of the General Assembly. Hon. James R. Brown was elected to fill the vacancy. I shall never cease to cherish kind and tender memories of the hospitality of Kentucky Confederates. Riding along a street in Lexington, literally covered with dust, a beautiful woman came out of a handsome cottage, to the gate, and asked me to alight, ‘Come in and have breakfast.’ The want of harmony between her appearance and mine induced me to make an effort to excuse myself, which proved unavailing. I went in and met the hospitality of a sparkling julep and a delightful breakfast, dispensed with the charming grace, dignity, and elegance for which the sex is distinguished. I felt something of the sentiment which, I suppose thrilled the heart of the Indian when he discovered the Alabama and christened it into the name of ‘Here we rest.’ Near Paris, I was attacked violently with bilious fever. I was taken to the elegant home of Frank Ford, who, with his good wife, gave me special attention and tender nursing for eight or ten days; at the same time keeping up with the movements of the opposing forces with the view of preventing my capture. Finally he informed me that the movements of Woolford’s cavalry made it vital to me to leave. He put me into his buggy and drove me, in the night, a distance of 20 miles to Lexington with a negro boy to ride a horse which he had given to me. I found at the hotel a member of Bragg’s staff, sick, and much exercised for his safety. The next afternoon I left Lexington in the direction of Nicholasville, on horseback. After proceeding five or six miles I broke down and could proceed no further. I stopped at the home of Elijah Bryan and remained here more than a week. Mr. Bryan had another guest, in the person of a pale, sick, slender youth, who belonged to Churchill’s Brigade. He had been in the battle at Richmond. His age, size, and condition, with his intelligence, coolness, and courage, impressed me greatly.
“The retreat of the Confederates was a severe blow to Southern sympathizers. As the Federals fell back and the Confederates advanced, they hoped the war would be transferred across the Ohio. They were jubilant at the coming and in tears at the departure of the Confederate army. It was to them unexpected and disappointing. Everybody was on the qui vive for news. All sorts of rumors were flying in every direction as to the movements of the troops of the respective armies. Under the observation and information of Mr. Bryan, I finally ascertained the location and movement of my command, and convinced that if I escaped capture, no time must be lost, I determined to make the effort to rejoin it. Mr. Bryan repeated precisely the kindness of Mr. Ford, by putting a negro boy on my horse and taking me in his buggy, delivered both at the bridge across the Kentucky River just as it was being set on fire by order of the Confederates. With a grateful heart, I bade my friend ‘good-bye,’ mounted my horse, and was the last to cross the bridge. I held up better than I expected that day, and stopped at a comfortable Kentucky home, where I had some rest. I awoke in the morning to find that someone during the night had swapped horses with me. My horse (the present from Mr. Ford) was large, fat, and able. In his place I found a very thin colt, utterly broken down, with a horrible sore back, and so weak that it staggered in walking. The only thing to be done was to take the chances with the colt. So, shortening my saddle-girth a few feet and putting on the saddle, I mounted the crippled colt to escape the Federal army. When I reached the command and removed the saddle, the colt tumbled down, where it was left when the camp moved. The comforts of that day’s travel were not promoted by the kind (?) assurance of everyone I passed, or met, that ‘I was gone up,’ that the ‘Yankees will get you.’ With my facilities for movement, it was little tantalizing to be constantly advised as I was, to ‘hurry up.’ After resting a few days at Lenoir’s Station, we were ordered to Readysville, and thence, on December 19th, took the train at Tullahoma for Vicksburg, where we arrived on the evening of December 27th and marched from the train into the line of battle at Chickasaw Bayou, where the fight was in progress. I was in command of the regiment. The troops on that part of the line all next day (Sunday) were under constant fire of shells and sharpshooters. ---About sun-up, I was ordered to change the position of the regiment, and while moving to the new position, was shot by a sharpshooter. I was carried to the rear, and at night removed to the hospital at Vicksburg.
“Singular coincidences often occur. Maj. Humble of Louisiana was shot in the knee; Lt.-Col. Timmons of Texas, in the ankle, and I in the leg, equidistant from the knee and ankle, on the same day, and met at the hospital at night. Maj. Humble died that night. Lt.-Col. Timmons and I were removed to a private house in the suburbs of the city and placed in the same room. His foot was amputated and he died. The ball that hit me, ranged between the two bones of the limb, lodging in the knee joint, destroying the periosteum, caries of the bone succeeded, and gangrene in its most malignant type, supervened, defying arrest by the surgeons. The sloughing progressed with a rapidity and to an extent that was startling. Half a dozen army surgeons, upon consultation, adjudged the case hopeless, and so informed my wife by telegram. My hostess, Mrs. Eberline, told the doctors that pulverized loaf-sugar would arrest the sloughing, which of course they ridiculed. But when they surrendered the case as hopeless, they told her she could try her sugar. She pulverized a plateful, sifted it through a muslin cloth, and applied it to the wound. I never had any idea of the intensity of agony until then; the only way to conceive of it was to feel it. The third application entirely arrested the sloughing, and within two or three days the wound, which was a large and ghastly one, began a healthy granulation. It turned out that Mrs. Eberline was one of those inspired geniuses in the discovery of simple remedies for emergent ailments with which we sometimes, though rarely, met. That she was the human agent that saved my life, I have never entertained the slightest doubt. I have been thus particular in recording in detail, what may seem to others a very small matter, in the hope that sometime, somewhere, the facts may be of value to somebody. On March 8, 1863, occupying a litter, I was placed on the train under the care of that true soldier and faithful friend, M.H. Eakes, now a useful member of the North Georgia conference of the M.E. Church, south, and reached home a week later. During the year, with two exceptions, capture and death, I had passed through all the vicissitudes and experience of soldier life, of hunger and thirst, heat and cold, dust and mud, weary marches and sleepless bivouacs, sickness and wounds; and perhaps had suffered more, and done less, than any soldier in the Confederate service. Col. Harris was killed at Baker’s Creek. I was promoted to the Colonelcy and resigned. Kellogg was promoted and was wounded at New Hope; but, with Joseph E. Johnson, surrendered the shattered remnant of the Forty-third Georgia Volunteers at Greensboro, N.C. in 1865. Frank Simmons concealed the regimental flag and brought it home. He concealed it by wrapping it around his person, under his shirt. Its tattered fragments are now with the Archives of the Regimental Association.