Major Leaming’s Atlanta Campaign Letter
‘ Camp of the Fortieth, Near Atlanta, Georgia, July 16, 1864′
“We are on the south bank of the Chattahoochie, our camp about six or seven miles from Atlanta; othere parts of our army somewhat nearer. We crossed on the thirteenth, and have been in camp quietly resting for three whole days, and with the alarming prospect of at least another day of rest. I never felt so keenly the need of it before, for both body and mind are completely wearied out with the constant strain brought upon them during a campaign of over sixty-six days , sixty of which were spent under fire more or less intense. We were always, during the sixty days, not only within reach of Rebel artillery, but also within range of Minie balls, and could hear them at almost any moment whistling, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups, all the notes of scale, from highest to lowest, according to velocity or the more or less perfect smoothness of the missile. If a ball hits a tree, and glancing, is battered by the impact, it comes squalling along so much like a cat, that the boys constantly say, ‘There, they are throwing another cat over here by the tail.’ These glancing balls perform strange feats in the way of penetrating into apparently impossible places. For instance the Chaplain of the Ninety-Seventh Ohio was struck in the back by one, with his face toward the spot from which it came. I saw a man have a hole put through his hat, and it knocked off, he sitting at the time with his back to a brestwork three feet higher than his head, and actually leaning against it. The ball had been shot from a lower point than the wall, and striking a limb overhead at a proper angle, was deflected in such a manner as to quite equal the Irishman’s shot round the hay-stack with a bent gun. There is no certainly safe place, and no possiblility of providing aginst the vagaries of ‘straggling balls.’ On the eighteenth of June, a man standing talking with me, and at the same time cleaning his gun, and whose head was at least six feet lower than the top of the ridge between him and the Rebels, and they also thirty feet lower than that, and four hundred yards off over an open field, was shot through the head and fell as you have seen a bullock fall, an involuntary quivering of the museles lasting for a few minutes, alone showing that there remained even a remnant of the vitality which had animated him a moment before. On the twenty-seventh of June, in the assault upon the enemy’s lines, in which our regiment was so badly cut up, three men were wounded, (have since died) all within less than a minute, and so near that two of them were in actual contact with me at the time, and the other not two feet off. I did not get a scratch. A small tree, about eight inches across, behind which I stood for half an hour nearly, after the attack had evidently failed, and the greater part if not all the regiment had got back to the works, I saw afterward, when the Rebels had retreated, -there may have been balls put in it before, or some after the twenty-seventh assault, but it was, when I looked at it, actually torn into splinters by both canister and rifle balls. There was hardly a particle of bark left on it, from the ground up, on the side of the enemy, yet, as I said , I was untouched, while in a line of that same fire there were not less than one hundred men hurt, many of them killed outright. I fear you may think there is a touch of egotism about this. My intention was simply to give you an idea, if possible, of the strange freaks and unpleasant partiality these bullets display for entering the bodies of some men, while they avoid those of others. Happily, so far, they have avoided me. I continue to hope they may’ keep on doing it.’ But about the war, what shall I say? I cannot tell you anything of our movements, for that would, under present circumstances, be contraband news, and mere speculations are of but small account in the face of the events which follow each other with sufficient rapidity to satisfy any one not born in the country where everything is ‘expected to be done in about twenty minutes.’ We have come one hundred and thirty miles over mountains and rivers, gaining every inch by hard fighting with an army who have made ‘spades trumps,’ and held a handful of them too. The positions from which Johnston has been driven by force or strategy are each miracles of strength, both natural and artificial, and having accomplished the huge undertaking in spite of all that could be done to prevent it, we are now arrived at the plain country, and have left the mountains and their spurs and outlying ridges behind us. The Chattahoochie is crossed, and we can count the church steeples, and see the dwellings of the people of Atlanta.
You will find when this campaign in all it’s parts has been carried to a conclusion, that there will only be a few of the outside corners of the rebellion to polish off. We are fighting it now in a way to either annihilate the men of the South, or compel the remnant to submission to the laws. It is a ‘Killkenny cat fight’, and we have a ‘cat with the longest tail;’ and the more desperate the fighting, the more terrible the loss, the quicker will peace return and the blessings that belong to it. In spite of our losses in this army, they have been at least made up by reinforcements. You may rely upon this statement. We are most likely stronger than when we started. The South are fighting their last men – without resources. We can loose man for man with them, annihilate them, and have a handsome balance to out credit to commence the business of building up a nation anew out of the reliques of the old.”
Major Leaming’s letter was written to his wife.