Color Bearers of Missionary Ridge

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One of the hardest fights for Wagner’s Brigade was the battle of “Mission Ridge”. The 40th Indiana Regiment lost 45 percent of it’s strength as it fought up the rocky slopes of the ridge. As in any Union regiment, great pride was felt for the regiment’s flags; the national and  regimental standards. Official accounts tell of the regiment losing several color bearers while assaulting the ridge, not all stories of the action have been told. The “Official Records” state that Lt. Col. Neff planted the regiment’s colors in front of Confederate General Bragg’s headquarters. There are however several pieces of the puzzle that have surfaced through different documents that tell a little of the “soldiers story”. This post is to share a few acts of courage that happened that day.

 On August 24, 1904; during the 40th Indiana Regimental reunion at Frankfort, Indiana this note was made in the  minutes: ” Jesse Neff appointed to procure through Act of Congress, a suitable metal (sic) for James H. Seaman for gallant and distinguished conduct as color bearer of the 40th Regiment at the Battle of Mission Ridge Nov. 25, 1863″. His acts, while not spelled out, left a lasting impression on his comrades 41 years later. It is documented in the newspaper that James recieved a flesh wound to his right arm on that day. There are no other notes in the 40th Regiment’s reunion book that mention what happened with obtaining a metal for James Seaman of Company C.

Another mention of the flags at Missionary Ridge appeared in the Biography of Hezekiah F. Harrell, son of John T. Harrell, 40th Indiana Infantry. An excerpt from “A.W. Bowen’s History of Montgomery County, Indiana (1913) p. 723″: Hezekiah F. Harrell – ” … John T. Harrell spent his early years in the Buckeye state and he came to Montgomery County in 1840 settling in Brown Township, where he followed farming for some time, later devoting his attention to saw milling. He was well known among the early settlers and lived to see the forests give way to the cultivated fields. He lived to an advanced age, dying in 1906. He enlisted in Co. C 40th Indiana Vol. Infantry and served through the war, taking part in 27 hard fought battles. At Missionary Ridge he succeeded in planting the flag after it had been shot down 5 times.”

In the February 25, 1864 “Crawfordsville Journal” a poem appeared on the front page ” In Memory to Robert Hanna”, with a notation at the end stating ” A corporal of the 40th Indiana from Montgomery County, who fell while bearing the colors of his regiment in the storming of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga”. The poem tells the story of Robert, but the whole story came out in the “Crawfordsville Journal” on June 8, 1889. Captain DeWitt Wallace’s, author of the Robert Hanna Poem spoke at the McPherson Post (G.A.R.) in Crawfordsville, Indiana on Memorial Day, 1889.  The paper reported ” ….. Capt. DeWitt Wallace was the speaker and delivered an oration eloquent in words in eulogy of those who died in liberty’s cause. He incorporated into his address a poem which he had written dedicated to the memory of Robert Hanna, a Montgomery County boy, and who was a member of the Fortieth Regiment. Robert’s brother was a color bearer, and at Mission Ridge he fell, pierced by a ball. The brave boy took up the colors his brother had so proudly borne and carried them nearly to the crest of the ridge when he too, fell dead. Capt. Wallace commemorated the incident in verse.”

The poem states Robert was shot through the head and died on the ridge. His brother James was wounded in the thigh and died in the Army hospital on Feb. 4, 1864 of his wounds. The bodies of both brothers were sent home, they are buried together in Freedom Cemetery, near Waveland, Indiana.

Scott Busenbark

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