Sunday, December 19, 2004

Gone With The Wind

I've done some more reading and found additional details concerning William Ebert, the soldier with the 12th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry who I think may have been my great great grandmother's younger brother. The Regimental History for the 12th includes a fairly detailed account of the Battle of Bald Hill outside of Atlanta on July 21st and 22nd, 1864, and William Ebert is specifically mentioned as one of the ten men from Company D who were wounded in that battle on the 21st. Ten more men from that company were killed that day making it the single bloodiest day in the war for Company D. Two regiments, the 12th Wisconsin and the 16th Wisconsin, attacked the outer perimeter of the rebel defense for the city of Atlanta, gaining for the Union a foothold in the series of trenches that had been dug by rebel defenders on the eastern outskirts of the city. Once ensconced inside the defense works, Sherman's army was able to gradually extend its control of the networked trenches over the next two months until the city fell into Union hands.

The 12th had seen very little combat during its first two years in the war, which were spent mostly in the vicinity of Vicksburg as part of an extended siege and subsequent occupation. The rebels there had preferred surrender to starvation. The 12th was apparently "veteranized" in the spring of 1864 for the Army of the Tennessee's push from Kentucky through Tennessee and Alabama into Georgia and the Carolinas. This meant that a number of soldiers with considerable combat experience whose units had completed their three years of service were able to reenlist and transfer into the 12th Wisconsin, a well-seasoned but not yet combat-hardened outfit, rather than start from scratch with a newly formed regiment consisting mostly of green recruits. The men of the 12th in 1864 were in the last year of their three year enlistment and many were counting the days until they could go home having done their stint. Men in the unit who were willing to reenlist were given furloughs that spring so they could visit their families and help recruit replacements for those who didn't plan to reenlist. One of the soldiers in Company D, Charles Waldo, had been a young newspaper editor for the West Bend Post before the war and had regularly published letters in that paper throughout the first two years of his enlistment. His letters didn't glorify the war by any means, but they did make it clear that for a great many infantrymen the war was perhaps not a grand adventure but certainly something different and a bit more interesting than a life of hard labor on the family farm. His accounts of daily life in the army made it abundantly clear that a thousand men from the next county had spent far more time cleaning their guns than shooting them. So it's not that hard for me to imagine a twenty-year-old younger sibling of one of my ancestors joining up, probably in defiance of his elders, a father pushing around a sixty-year-old German beer gut , and the husbands of his older sisters, who were almost forty and couldn't go because they had kids to raise.

Signing up as he did on George Washington's birthday, William Ebert might have had perhaps six or eight weeks of boot camp to learn the basics of soldiering before he was sent off by train to join up with the remainder of the regiment at the end of April in Cairo, Illinois. More than three hundred new recruits joined the regiment that spring and they perhaps had a chance to share their barracks at Camp Randall in Madison for a few days with the five hundred or more "veterans" who had earned furloughs by extending their enlistments. From Cairo they apparently went by boat on the Tennessee River to Clifton, Tennessee, where they arrived on the 14th of May, then they marched 300 miles across northern Alabama through Huntsville to Decatur and on to Rome, Georgia before arriving in Ackworth on the 8th of June as part of "the Atlanta campaign under General Sherman." .

According to the record, twenty-five men from each of six companies from the 12th, comprising a force of 150 men, were assigned the task of storming a rebel entrenchment at Kennesaw Mountain on the 15th of June after a means was found to get past a dense thicket not far from the entrenched position. They managed to dislodge the entrenched rebels and hold their position for a short period of time before rebel reinforcements arrived to drive them back beyond the thicket. The short-lived success of this maneuver seems to have established the blueprint for the plan of attack employed a little more than a month later at Bald Hill. Only one man from Company D was killed at Kennesaw Mountain and a small handful were wounded in the encounter, but the fact that this strategy was repeated suggests that it was viewed as a workable one, albeit potentially quite hazardous. At Bald Hill the battle lasted two days instead of fifteen minutes. The casualty count was much higher, but they were able to establish control of the position and from that foothold in the enemy trenches they carried forward a two-month siege with quite limited losses for their unit.

My guess is that William Ebert, the green recruit, had a good chance to see what soldiers are expected to do at Kennesaw Mountain and a chance to do it himself a month later at Bald Hill, where he suffered a wound that probably put him in a hospital for about six months before he was told in January, 1865, that his services to the Union army were no longer required. He probably returned to Scott Township in mid-January just as my great great grandfather and his brother-in-law were completing whatever training they received at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee in preparation for their great adventure in Mobile Bay and on the Texas gulf coast at the mouth of the Rio Grande.

A retrospective view of Sergeant Charles Waldo, the embedded reporter with the 12th Wisconsin, is provided in a student essay written in 1967 by Herbert Neeck, who had access to an extensive diary maintained by Waldo in addition to the steady stream of letters posted in the West Bend Post. The string of newspaper accounts ends just as my ancestor's probable sibling was undergoing his basic training in Madison. It may be that the trenches on the outskirts of Atlanta weren't real conducive to successful warblogging, but I think we all know that few accounts of what transpired there could really compete with the panoramic view later provided by Margaret Mitchell in 'Gone With The Wind'.

1 comment:

Craig said...

It should perhaps be noted that the letters of Charles Waldo to the West Bend Post indicate that an Hon. Jesse Myers, among others, visited the regiment in Madison in December, 1861, shortly before the 12th was mustered into service. A subseqent letter, posted from Memphis in March 1863, mentioned a visit from J. H. Myers Esq. of Kewaskum and a Mr. Lampert from West Bend, who apparently returned to Wisconsin with several soldiers who were released on disability. A soldier named W.W. Myers was wounded at Bald Hill on July 21st along with W. Ebert. I don't know if W.W. Myers was the son of J.H. Myers, but I wouldn't be surprised if John Lampert and Matthias Lampert were sons of the Mr. Lampert who visited the regiment in Memphis in 1863. John and Matthias Lampert were both killed at Bald Hill on July 21st. Those who have visited my homepage might want to consider these facts in light of the marriage of Charles Lubach to Catherine Guth in 1877.