Fort DonelsonExperiences of the 76th Ohio in the Siege.
Editor National Tribune: My first experience on a battlefield was at Fort Donelson. My regiment, the 76th Ohio, had left its recruiting camp at Newark, O., on Feb. 9, 1862, and about the 12th, I think, we reached Paducah. We went down the Ohio River from Cincinnati on transports, and arrived at Paducah in the evening, but did not go ashore. I was officer of the guard that day and night, and just before daylight a transport came alongside and tied up to our boat, and a lieutenant jumped aboard and greeted me with the first information that had reached Paducah of the capture of Fort Henry. That day several transports, heavily laden with soldiers and army supplies, our regiment included, and also a number of gunboats, went up the Cumberland River to make an attack on Fort Donelson. We landed some two or three miles below the fort on Friday afternoon, the 13th, and immediately marched a mile or so to the rear of it. We halted frequently, so that our progress was slow. We halted once by the cabin of one of the natives, and I guess they must have thought there was no doubt about our being genuine Yankees, for we certainly asked them enough questions to satisfy them on that score, and we had no doubt about their being genuine Southerners, for their replies were well supplied with "we- uns" and "you-uns." When we reached our position in the line it was nearly sundown, snow falling and pretty cold. Men were detailed from our regiment to go out on the picket line. I remember how I pitied those poor fellows who had to stand out in the cold snow storm all night in front of the enemy. We had been playing soldier at Camp Sherman, Ohio, for the two or three months previous, but now it was coming right down to real business.
After standing in line fully two hours, shivering and stamping our feet to keep them warm, at last we were ordered to bivouac a short distance in the rear, behind a hilltop, from the enemy, and to make as little light as possible, as it might expose our position to the rebels and enable them to treat us to some shells, perhaps. What would a good many of the boys have given to have gone home to supper and to bed that night?
When we broke ranks we were not long in getting some fires started, for the cold annoyed us more than the fear of rebel shells, for we had stood in ranks so long that we were pretty badly chilled. When we came to know more about the shells, however, we were not quite so indifferent. Some, however, did not try to build fires, but rolled their blankets around them and lay down together in groups like a lot of pigs, while others who had picked up dead branches and made fires got out their tincups and made coffee before trying to sleep. For my own part, I was a stockholder in a fire with about a dozen of the boys, and we had our hot coffee, and after sitting and standing around the fire until after midnight I wrapped my blanket about me and lay down as close to the fire as I thought prudent, and soon fell asleep. Before morning one of the boys gave me a jog and shouted in my ear, "Lieut. Burt, your blanket is afire." and raising myself, I found a hole burned in it large enough to put my arm through; but fortunately, the fire had not reached my coat. There was some firing on the picket line through the night.
By 10 o'clock the next morning orders came to be in readiness to march to the front at a moment's notice. Gen. Lew Wallace, to whose command we belonged, was on top of a hill near us, and Aids were galloping their horses to and from the position he occupied. In the afternoon our regiment and the 1st Neb. were ordered to advance on a road along a ridge toward the front, where we had heard considerable firing. We met an Illinois regiment that had been engaged going to the rear and for the first time saw wounded men being carried off on stretchers and in ambulances.
I remember one of the Illinois boys saying to us: " Boys, you'll catch Hell ! We've just come out of there, and our regiment is all cut to pieces. "
We had not advanced much over a quarter of a mile along the ridge when the balls began to zip, zip, through the branches of the trees and underbrush near us. We immediately filed to the right in line of battle across the end of a hollow, halted, and faced toward the enemy, the 1st Neb. being put in position about 10 yards in front of us and a little lower down the hill.
They immediately opened fire on the rebels, while our regiment was ordered to reserve its fire. The rebels, a Mississippi and a Texas regiment, with a battery, returned the fire. They over shot us mostly, but we had 15 or 20 men wounded, and our boys could be restrained no longer, and began to load and fire as fast as they could, delivering their fire over the heads of the Nebraska regiment. I'll venture to say that neither the Nebraska boys nor the rebels were in much danger from some of our firing, for I observed that some of them fired much as if they were shooting squirrels in the tops of trees. As the leaves on the underbrush and the butternut uniforms of the rebels were nearly the same color, it was difficult to see the latter, but their balls whizing about us convinced us that they were there. In less than half an hour we had driven them from their position and their firing ceased. What our feelings were as we were marching to the front for the first time, and how rejoiced we were over our first victory there are few old soldiers here, perhaps, who do not know better than any of us can tell.
That was on Saturday. That evening we moved a little farther to the front and bivouacked for the night. The next morning -- Sunday -- before we moved again to the front, I took the opportunity to look over the ground where the battle had been going on the day before. The underbrush and saplings were shivered with the balls. Here was a cartridge box, there a broken musket; a few steps farther on a knapsack torn in shreds, and letters, writing paper and some articles of clothing scattered about; here a bayonet and there a soldier's hat, a canteen with a bullet hole through it, crumbs of hardtack scattered about, etc.
About 9 or 10 o'clock we had orders to move to the front, for the purpose, as we understood, to charge on the fort. As we went forward among the cut down saplings that were intended by the rebels to impede our advance we frequently came to dead rebels. After frequent halts we came in sight of the fort across an open field a few hundred yards to the front. We were momentarily expecting the order to charge on it, when to our great delight, we saw a white flag raised on the works. Word soon came of the "unconditional surrender," and we marched into the little village of Dover, a mile or so above the fort. We went on board the transports that night, and the next day were quartered in the fort, where we remained until we went up the Tennessee to Pittsburg Landing.--R.W.Burt, Peoria, Illinois.
From: The National Tribune. September 13, 1906
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