Major Henry Leaming’s Missionary Ridge Letter

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“The Soldier of Indiana In The War For The Union Vol. 2”; Author Catharine Merrill; Published Merrill and Company 1889.

Page 473 -476

“Two days after the battle Major Leaming, of the Fortieth gives a spirited description of the race up the mountain.”

“”I do not know that I could interest you by attempting  a description of the battle last Wednesday, but dome of it’s incidents will never by me be forgotten. Stone River was a skirmish, as far as our regiment was concerned, to this affair. In fact the Fortieth, being in the front line, formed with the regiments on it’s flanks, the forlorn hope of the storming party. Now, if you will reflect that we had to advance more than a mile, without cover of any sort, over a dead level, commanded at all points by the enemy’s batteries, and for the last quarter of a mile under fire of the infantry, you will wonder with me that any ever succeeded in reaching the foot of the ridge, to say nothing of the ascent afterwards. I could see our brave boys dropping all around me as we moved forward, some killed, others desperately wounded, but the advance was not even checked. It moved on as if each man felt himself invulnerable. As I lost my horse before we were half way across the plain, I had to take it on foot, and after running more than a half mile, had the mountain to climb. It is about as steep and about twice as high as the hill just back of Camp Tippeconoe, at Laffayette, perhaps higher. After running so far, of course I was about gone up before I got to the mountain foot, and from there to the top was just the biggest job of climbing I ever undertook, not to speak of the rascals on the top, who objected to our going up.”

“I never have seen anything so vicious as the artillery fire from the ridge. Grape, canister and shell flew through and over our ranks like a flock of birds. I was blinded time and again by the dirt thrown in my face by some of the missiles striking the ground in front of me. The flight of canister much resembles the noise of a covey of quails just springing from the ground. I heard a soldier say, as a charge of canister rushed along, ‘Here goes your quails.”

“As we lay behind the rifle-pits a few moments, taking breath for the next rush, the firing from the artillery was most accurate and rapid. The bank we were behind was not more than three feet high, and as the Rebels were so much above us, they plumped their shell right down on us. Once, I remember, as I lay close up on my side to the parapet, with my legs behind me, a twenty-four shell struck not three inches from my feet, and glancing, exploded about fifty feet in the rear. You can easily imagine that I drew in my legs a far as possible toward my chin. I mention these things of my own experience that you may form a better idea of how hot the place was for us all. As we were going up the mountain side, directly at the battery, we could feel the hot smoke puff right into out faces. The pieces were depressed so much as actually to blow huge masses of earth from the edge of the hill top.”

“The prisoners say that our attempt to scale the height was laughed at by them as absurd and impossible. They thought us insane to undertake it. After the thing was over, and I could see just what had been done, I came to pretty much the same conclusion.  Of course we did, but why we should succeed I cannot see. No artillery could be used by us. All depended on the bull-dog  perseverance of the infantry. In fact we mobbed the Rebels out of their position, every fellow fighting on his own hook. A man behind a stump would move forward to another just vacated in advance of him, and thus make room for another behind him. Thus the whole thing was gradually rushed up the hill, and when we got to the top the Rebels were mostly at the bottom on the other side. ‘Twas a clean thrashing they got, all the advantages on their side, all the success on ours.”

“After we drove the Rebels from the ridge, we could see them running without any sort of order, each man for himself, throwing away everything, – guns, cartridge-boxes with the belts cut, the owners not having taken the time to unbuckle them. While this was going on a part of our men were gathered together, and moved down the road after the crowd of Rebels. We struck them posted on a high hill, over which the road ran, and which, being crescent-shaped, with the horns encircling the road, commanded it most effectually. We got to the foot of the hill, but as we had only a remnant of our regiment, with a few of the Ninety-Seventh Ohio, our force was plainly not sufficient to storm it. So we stopped and commenced firing. We held our own for an hour and a quarter, with a fire poured into us from both flanks, as well as front. Finally a regiment was sent along the ridge to our left, and the Rebels, fearing a movement upon their flank, fled at once. We got here three pieces of artillery, a wagon loaded with rifle ammunition, and another loaded with new rifles, and a third with commissary stores.”

“I was standing in the road watching the firing, when I felt a pain shoot from my toes to my shoulders. I knew that I was struck about the knee, and I thought to myself, ‘Now for a wooden leg;’ but I did not put my hand down to see what was done for ten minutes.  I was afraid to, expecting to find the bone shattered. So I lay down – I couldn’t stand, and after a while became curious to see the damage. Sure enough the shot had struck plump on the bone, but my heavy overcoat had stopped it’s force somewhat, and this, with the distance it had come, prevented it from making anything more that an ugly contusion. If it had come with the slightest additional force, my leg would have been a goner. For a long time it was useless for walking purposes as a stick.”

“This fight was a mile beyond the ridge we scaled. We marched on till four in the morning, then lay on the ground, white with frost. I got a cold that racks every bone in my body.”

“The Fortieth took two hundred prisoners, and eight pieces of artillery. The guns were of the famous Washington battery, one that did our regiment much harm at Stone River. One of the pieces was marked Lady Bragg, another Lady Buckner. These were two hundred and forty smooth bore, two rifled Parrotts one hundred, the others brass howitzers. Bragg himself was on the ridge not ten minutes before we got there, and with Breckinridge made his escape in good time to save his skin.”

“We found that every preparation for winter quarters had been made by the Rebels. Cabins without number were scattered through the woods for miles, many built of large logs, and well chinked and daubed. This freezing weather will provide a great hardship to them without any shelter at all.”

“I told you the the Army of the Cumberland was not whipped at Chickamauga, and when we went for them again we would prove it. Whatever may have been the cause of the check there, the men were not, in any sense, whipped. This will, I think, be plain enough now. The back-bone of the Rebellion was broken last Wednesday. No tinkering can restore it. The patient may linger, but death is certain, and cannot long be delayed.”

“I have written to poor Mrs. Cooper, Jimmy Dick’s sister. It was indeed a painful thing to do, and I confess my heart was sad enough. Never was there a better fellow than he. I was , as all others were, attached most closely to him. A brave and noble gentleman.”

“The day of the fight was my birthday. The armies were celebrating it. Less noise would have suited me as well.”

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4 Responses to “Major Henry Leaming’s Missionary Ridge Letter”

  1. Brandyn Says:

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  2. Derrick Pugh Says:

    Boozie, that was a great letter!

  3. Great to read this letter as I have recently learned that my great great grandfather served in the 40th. It is warming to know that a relative of mine would have helped in such a great battle. His name was Balis Rayphole.

  4. Does anyone have any document mentioning Sergeant Alvin M Egnew of Company F of the Fortieth? He is one of the few killed at Missionary Ridge.

    I have a photo of his grave in the National Cemetery. His name is mis-spelled. It is spelled Egnow on his grave.

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