Major Henry Leaming’s Stone’s River Letter to his Wife
“The Soldier of Indiana In The War For The Union Vol. 2”; Author Catharine Merrill; Published Merrill and Company 1889.
Pages 159 – 162
Written from the Battlefield:
“Our entire right wing gave way, a great part of it in much confusion. The stragglers came rushing back toward our position (we were just to the left of the pike) in a perfect panic. For a time all seemed lost. Our men fell back across a large open field between the pike and the woods in which they had been posted, the Rebels pursuing and yelling with all their might. After our men had got well across the field, a battery of eighteen guns, posted on the hill to the left of the pike, was turned on the Rebels as they advanced in four lines, and grape and canister were showered among them until they could stand it no longer. Our brigade had been withdrawn from the position first held, in order to support the right wing in it’s retreat, and as we were in an open field, I had a fine view of the effect of the fire of our batteries. The loss to the enemy here was awful. As sometimes from four to six guns would fire at one time, at not more than two hundred yards, full into the face of the advancing lines, whole companies were swept down as grain to a reaper. They soon broke and ran back to the shelter of the woods, whither they were followed by our merciless shells. In the meantime we had been shelled by some batteries of theirs planted in front of the position we held at first. Grape, canister and fragments of shell fell around us like hail. The regiment was getting disoriented. Blake received an order to report to General Wood as under arrest. He started off, and Neff was, of course, in command. Just at this time an order came for us to march across to relieve the Fifty-Eighth, of Hascall’s brigade. This regiment was sharply engaged with a force in front, but was manfully standing its ground. The Fortieth marched over the railroad, into an open field, and lay down on a hill-side just in rear of the Fifty-Eighth. We were exposed to the full fire of the force engaging the Fifty-Eighth, and being above it, were in much more danger, as it is a fact beyond all doubt that perhaps nine-tenths of all the shots in battle pass to high, and that there is much more danger to men one hundred yards to the rear than to those in front. There was also a battery in full view of us taking the Fortieth as its target. But the boys lay like heroes under this most fearful trial that troops can be put to, that is, exposure to fire without a chance return it. We lay there for a half hour, when Royse came to me and told me that Neff was wounded soon after we arrived at this place, and that I was in command. The Fifty-Eighth by this time had expended its ammunition, I called the Fortieth to attention and moved forward to relieve it. As the fine fellows sprang to their feet, I saw three lying in their place, never more to respond till the last trump shall call to attention the universe. A large number of wounded had been removed. We started, as I have said, to relieve the Fifty-Eighth. When we were near enough, I called out to them that we would take their places, and in five seconds they had retired, and we were ready for the Rebels. The party that had fought the Fifty-Eighth soon retired. I ordered to cease firing, and rode out in front of the regiment to see what was coming next. I was not long in finding out. A large brigade of Breckenridge’s corps was formed about a half mile in front of us, and in a few moments came across the open field directly upon us. The order was given that no one should fire, and our boys lay flat and motionless. As their line advanced the fire from three of their batteries was directed on us; and the limbs from the trees overhead cut off by their shells, wounded and bruised quite a number of our boys. I rode over to the right of the regiment to see what support we had there. I could see nothing at all to our flank on the right, nothing to our rear. On our left was the One Hundredth Illinois behind the embankment, at nearly a right angle to our position. This was well enough, but I was uneasy about our right, especially as the weight of the advancing brigade was moving toward the right of our line. But nothing could be done just then by me to remedy the matter so, I merely sent a notice of the advance to Rosecrans, and left him to prepare as he thought best. As soon as the enemy was within one hundred and fifty yards, the One Hundredth Illinois Commenced firing. I had intended to let them come close up to us, then fire, and charge bayonets. But they halted as soon as the Illinois regiment commenced on them, and I was compelled to give the order “Commence firing.” The boys did so with a will. I stood watching them and the effect of their firing on the enemy. I cannot express to you how proud and happy I was when I saw their coolness, and the determination in every face. I encouraged them in every way I could, and as, unable to stand our fire, the Rebels began to run, I shouted to the boys to give it to them. They yelled out a shout of triumph, and it seemed to me, shot as if it were not necessary to load, and they could indeed “fire at will.” They disappeared into the woods on our right, and we had nothing but the fire of their batteries to stand. This continued for several hours, indeed till dark, but happily all the shell and shot passed to our rear, although not more than a few rods. At dark the battle was nearly over, and ceased soon after.
Just as we had driven our visitors off, I rode out to see the effect of our fire. The ground was literally covered with their dead and wounded. A prisoner we we took said that the Louisiana regiment he had belonged to was almost exterminated; that one captain came out without a man left, and another had only ten.
Now I know you would like me to say something about myself. Well, my little lady, folks say I did my duty. Thats enough, is it not? But I cannot give too much praise to Royse. He behaved like a hero. All, officers and men, did their duty nobly, and I am glad to have so brave a set of fellows under my command. I must not forget to say that in all probability the Fortieth was the only regiment which had been engaged that rested on the night of the great battle on the same ground that it occupied the night before.”