1ST LT. NATHAN BACHMAN

 

I was a little more than sixteen years old when, in March, 1861 a company of soldiers was organized at Bristol, and I was among the first enrolled. George M. Mathes, who had seen service in the army on the Western frontier, was elected captain of the company, which was called the Shelby Grays. Early in April, at the request of the company, I went to Knoxville and made arrangements for the Shelby Grays to become a part of a regiment that was to be organized at that place. I was proud to report that we would form a part of the first regiment organized in East Tennessee, which was known as the 3d Tennessee Regiment, commanded by Col. John C. Vaughn. The Shelby Grays reported at once at Knoxville and in the assignment of a place in the regiment became Company K.

We took quarters at the Fair Grounds, and after drilling a short time we were moved Lynchburg, Va., where we were sworn into service. We then went to Winchester, Virginia from which point we made various movements to Romney, toward Harper's Ferry, etc. During this time we were brigaded with the 1st Maryland regiment and the 11th and 13th Virginia Regiments, the brigade being commanded by Gen. A. P. Hill, E. Kirby Smith's division.

 

Our brigade was withdrawn from the Harper's Ferry territory and made a forced march to Piedmont, where we boarded the railroad cars and reached the battle field in time to "save the day" at the first Battle of Manassas. July 21, 1861. We then did service around Fairfax Station, Centerville. and other points until sometime in February, 1862, when the regiment was sent back to Tennessee. After remaining at Knoxville a short time, camping near the Deaf and Dumb Asylum we were moved to Kingston and thence into Scott and Morgan Counties to look after bushwhackers who were organizing in the mountains of East Tennessee and Kentucky. At a place called Brimstone, Company K had a severe fight early one morning with a strong force of these bushwhackers, in which several of our boys were killed or wounded. Returning to Kingston, we were shipped up the Clinch River on a small steamer to Clinton, and with that as a sort of base we moved back and forth, up and down the Cumberland Valley, guarding the passes in the Cumberland Mountains. Some bad feeling arising between the officers of Company K and Colonel Vaughn, an arrangement was approved by the War Department whereby our entire company was transferred to a regiment that was being organized by Col. Richard Fain, of Rogersville, and which was known as the 63d Tennessee Regiment. A new company made up from Colonel Vaughn's native county took our place in the 3d Tennessee Regiment.

 

Our company was E in the new regiment, the 63d Tennessee, the field officers of which were: Richard Fain, colonel; Abraham Fulkerson, lieutenant colonel; John Alfred Aiken, major; U. L. York, adjutant; and Tom Johnson, sergeant major.  During the winter of 1862-63, while the 63d was stationed at Cumberland Gap, Tom Johnson was transferred to a cavalry company, and 1 was appointed sergeant major in his stead and as such served to the end of the war. While at Cumberland Gap we had an exciting and amusing trip into Harlan County, Ky., after bushwhackers.

 

During the summer of 1863, about the time of Carter's (Yankee) raid into East Tennessee, we left Cumberland Gap and were sent to Tullahoma by railroad to reinforce General Bragg's army, which immediately began a retreat, falling back to Chattanooga, Very soon thereafter, Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga, and the Federal forces under Rosecrans occupied the place. Then followed the great battle of Chickamauga, September 19-21, 1863; and in this engagement, which ranks as one of the bloodiest of the war, Company E-in fact, the entire 63d Regiment-suffered heavily. The 63rd was in the final onslaught on Snodgrass Hill on Sunday evening, September 21. Through this fearful slaughter and loss of life I escaped unhurt, thanks to a kind Providence, but was struck once with a grapeshot, which tore off the sole of my shoe.  On Monday morning, September 22, after burying our dead comrades, we moved toward Chattanooga and camped at the foot of Missionary Ridge, remaining there until sometime in November, when our brigade, commanded by Gen. Archibald Gracie, was sent to Knoxville to reinforce General Longstreet, who had Burnsides "cooped up" in Knoxville.  Our brigade supported the troops that made the assault on Fort Sanders; and after being exposed for a long time to a deadly fire, when it became apparent that our forces could not dislodge the Federals, our brigade, being then under command of General Longstreet, withdrew from Knoxville and went up the valley near to Rogersville, from which point we returned to Bean's Station and engaged the enemy in a little fight-a big one for East Tennessee.

 

When we went to the Army of Northern Virginia in May, 1864, our regiment was brigaded with other Tennessee regiments in Lee’s army, which were the 7th, 17th, 23rd, and 44th and the brigade was commanded by Gen. Bushrod Johnson. These four regiments and ours, the 63rd, were so reduced in numbers that the War Department in Richmond had directed the consolidation of the five Tennessee regiments into one, and a full quota of officers had been selected and agreed on for the new regiment and each of the companies. In this arrangement for consolidation I had been given choice of leaving the office of adjutant of the new regiment with the rank of first lieutenant or as captain of one of the new companies. I had decided to take the former, because as adjutant I would be entitled to a horse (as long as I could furnish it myself). The difference in the monthly pay of the adjutant and all officers with the rank of first lieutenant and that of officers with the rank of captain as $25 per month, but at that time a soldier could not get a good dinner for $23; so a difference of $25 in Confederate money was not of much importance to me. General Grant's movements about April 1 demanded so much attention from the War Department at Richmond and kept our little army so busy that these plans for consolidation and reorganization of all the Tennessee troops belonging to Lee's army were necessarily deferred and indefinitely postponed. And so the Tennessee regiments retained their original identity up to the date of surrender.

 

After this we were quartered for a while on Lick Creek and later went to Abingdon, Va., when on or about May 2 we took the train (a lot of stock cars) for Richmond. This was a cold, snowy day in May, On our arrival at Richmond we were hurried down the north side of James River, and after we were withdrawn moving around a few days we returned and crossed to the south side of the river and engaged "Beast" Butler's forces at Walthall Junction, or Walthall Station.  As I remember, this was on the line of railroad leading from Petersburg to Richmond. We then retired in the direction of Richmond, halting at Drewry's Bluff. The Federals followed us and entrenched themselves strongly in our front.  Early on the morning of May 26 General Beauregard attacked Butler's forces, drove them pell-mell from their fortifications, and chased them to their transports on the James River. This was a quick, decisive battle and, taking into consideration the length of time the engagement lasted, was perhaps the severest battle in which we were engaged during the entire war. Our percentage of loss was greater than in any other fight.  In the assault on the enemy's fortifications the 63d Tennessee struck a fort on the pike, the strongest and best-fortified point on the line. In this engagement I had the misfortune to lose one skirt of my coat and part of my pants. The coat was made of homemade jeans, lined with homemade linsey, and had been sent to me by my mother I prized it above all my possessions; and, leaving out the question of the scare and shock I received from the piece of shell, I was far more distressed on account of being disrobed so unceremoniously than from the bruises I received on my thigh.

 

For a time after the battle of Drewry's Bluff we occupied that part of our line at a point near what was known as the Howlett House. Here we were constantly exposed to the fire from the Federal gunboats. Our line was very thin and weak, and skirmishing was kept up regularly. When General Grant began his movement on Petersburg, our brigade was hurried to that point to meet his advance. I think this was about the 15th of June 1864. Reaching Petersburg weary and worn from loss of sleep and constant marching and skirmishing on Swift Creek. We endeavored to spread our small force over the northeast suburbs of the city and marched out until we met Grant's advance. For the first day and night our entire force was on the skirmish line endeavoring to hold the Federals in check until General Lee could move his forces from the north side of the James River. About four o'clock on the afternoon of the 16th of June, Col. Abram Fulkerson and I were lying in the shade of a small bush in the rear of our skirmish line, both sleeping soundly. when I was suddenly aroused by the "whack" of a Minie ball which had no difficulty in making its way into my thigh and which struck me as nearly as could be where I had been struck by the piece of shell a month before at Drewry’s Bluff. This time the joke was on me, for my much-treasured clothing did not suffer in this incident, the ball passing through rents already made by the shell on May 16; but I thought I was ruined, and Colonel Fulkerson said I rolled and tumbled like a chicken with its head off. In due time I was conveyed to the rear, and on examination by our field surgeon it was found that the wound was not serious, that I had been struck by what we called a "spent ball," which penetrated the flesh only about three-fourths of an inch. In a few days I was ready for service again. I had always had a perfect horror of being captured and taken to prison, and this light affliction saved me from a greater calamity; for on the following morning about daybreak the majority of the 63d Tennessee were captured and taken to prison, and it is more than probable that I would have been with them had I not been wounded.

 

The 63rd and Bushrod Johnson's brigade were now greatly reduced, and our experience in the ditches around Petersburg during the hot summer months was very trying indeed. We were exposed to the fire of sharpshooters and mortar shells both day and night. Filth and vermin in the trenches could not be avoided, water was difficult to obtain, and rations very scant. Were you ever real hungry for three or four years at a time? Our hunger lasted for years.  After the capture on June 16, 1864, our regiment and brigade occupied a part of our line of defense northwest of the city of Petersburg, some distance west of the Crater, Our breastworks and those of the enemy were very close together, and we were constantly exposed to fire from sharpshooters and mortar shells. This, with the heat of a summer sun and close confinement in our filthy trenches, where we had to cook and sleep, made life rather uncomfortable, and we lost many good soldiers and gallant officers while located at that point on the line. Gen. Archibald Gracie, who led our old brigade into its charge on Snodgrass Hill in the battle of Chickamauga, immortalizing himself by his gallantry on that memorable occasion, was killed in the trenches at this point; as was also Colonel Fulton, of the 44th Tennessee Regiment, which now formed a part of our brigade.

 

Sometime in August, I think, the Federals again made a demonstration against the city of Richmond from the north side of the James River, and our brigade hurried back through Richmond and down to Signal Hill and Dutch Bend to reinforce the small force that was trying to protect the city of Richmond against the Federals, who came up the James River with transports and gunboats, landed troops, and advanced on the city. While guarding the river front in Dutch Bend and while in the low, swampy country along the north side of the James most all of our men, myself among them, contracted what we called "chills." Strange as it may seem, a fellow would get mighty cold in very hot weather with James River chills.

 

Sometime in September, 1864, the Federals succeeded in getting out from the river and captured a part of our line of defense, and on this particular occasion they took and occupied Fort Harrison, the strongest point of defense on our line, While this was going on I had some thrilling experiences and hairbreadth escapes; but the same kind and merciful Providence that had always kept me safe did not fail me then, and so I came through it all unhurt, but always weary and hungry. We soon retook our lost forts and lines of defense and drove the enemy back to the river.  We then went to work and built what we called "bomb-proofs" for protection against the heavy shells the Federals threw among us from their gunboats. The bombproofs were constructed of heavy timbers and covered with earth. We remained here (on the north side of the James) until late in the fall or early winter of 1864, when we were again removed to the right of General Lee's line on the south side of the James and, as I remember, on the Wilmington and Welden Railroad, a few miles south of Petersburg. In our new position we had some sharp engagements in our endeavors to prevent the Federals from extending their lines, until finally, about April 1, 1865. being so completely overwhelmed by Grant's constantly increasing army, while our own was gradually but constantly decreasing, General Lee undertook a retreat, evacuating both Petersburg and Richmond.

 

In the early part of March 1, being very sick had been sent to what we called. the field hospital. I grew worse for several days and was not in condition at any time to be removed to a general hospital. The accommodations at our field hospital were meager indeed. Our shelter consisted of old dilapidated tents, with bunks made of pine poles covered with pine tops, on which we lay. Thanks to Dr. J.S. McDonough, the surgeon of the 63d Tennessee Regiment, who was as gentle as a woman, as kind as a mother, and who had always been my personal friend, Billie Cross, of Company F, was sent with me to the hospital as a nurse, and, thanks to Billie Cross, for whom I ever afterwards had a warm and almost affectionate feeling, he did his duty as a nurse to my entire satisfaction; and when General Lee's army began to retire from Petersburg, I was so far recovered as to be able to sit up for a short while two or three times a day on the side of my pole bunk.

 

So when the news came that the army was giving up Petersburg and Richmond, I started Billie in a hurry to our regimental headquarters with instructions to bring me "Old Bob", Colonel Fulkerson's old black horse. Dr. Jones, surgeon in charge of the field hospital, insisted that I was too weak to ride horseback; but that same old horror of being captured and going to prison led me to decide that I would go and do the best I could. And so Billie Cross, with the help of others of the hospital force, lifted me on and off the horse and kept this up as occasion demanded until we reached a place-a small place then, the name of which I had never heard before-which has since April 9, 1865, been admittedly the most historic place in the United States, for it was there on that memorable day that the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Grant, who commanded the largest and best-equipped army ever marshaled on American soil.

 

After being convinced that General Lee had really surrendered, I said to the boys who were with me, "Well. it's all over now," and could not refrain from crying like a child. It would be hard for me to write anything that would adequately describe my feelings, for up to the very moment that this news came my faith in General Lee's being able to defeat Grant with all odds against him was firm and unshaken. Within an hour or less time, perhaps, the bluecoats were mixing among us. dividing rations with out starving boys and jollying us for being so hard to "hem in." As soon as parole papers could be prepared we began our homeward journey. L. L. Etter, second lieutenant of Company C, was in command of the 63d Tennessee at the time of surrender. Fortunately for me, Old Bob served me well in making my trip home; for during all the retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox I had gained strength steadily, and when we left Appomattox I could mount with just a little assistance.

 

I reached Bristol in company with U. L. York, adjutant of our regiment, and we were kindly received and hospitably entertained by Mr. John Keys, who was then ticket agent at Bristol. During the days of my early boyhood Mr. Keys taught at the old Gammon schoolhouse, near my home, where I was a pupil. We procured a conveyance from Bristol to Blountville, and there Rev. J. P. Briscoe kindly loaned us his horse and buggy to make the remainder of the trip home.

 

And so ended my career as a soldier boy, covering a period of a little more than four years, and which I have always considered the most eventful part of my life. The life of a real soldier, either as an officer or in the ranks, is a severe test of endurance, obedience, and faithfulness; and I believe that the chief factor of strength and effectiveness in the Confederate soldier was his abiding and sincere conviction that his cause was just, and it was easy to see that those officers and soldiers who were unfaithful, disobedient, and insubordinate were plainly lacking in this conviction.

The life of a "dress parade" soldier is extremely demoralizing. The severest discipline cannot restrain an army of young men from vice and sin when there is "nothing doing" except the ordinary daily drill; but when forced marches for successive days and nights take the place of the camp drill and dress parade, when there is a real instead of an imaginary enemy just in front, when dead comrades are being. hurriedly laid in narrow, shallow trenches, with perhaps a foot of earth for a covering, and others are moaning and crying out with pain from shattered limbs, the opportunity is at hand for the display of the qualities of endurance and faithfulness that make the real soldier.  Strange as it may seem, the good soldier was always jolly and mirthful, always ready with some seasonable joke that applied to a most deplorable condition, and these jolly fellows were continually guying and playing pranks on the "shirks" and such as were always complaining.

 

The parole given me at Appomattox I carried in my purse after coming home until it was worn into a frazzle and almost into dust. I am sorry that I did not put it carefully away for preservation.

I have carefully, and I might say eagerly, read a great deal concerning the conditions that existed prior to 1861 and the real causes of the War between the States; and now that the issues involved have been settled and were settled by force of arms, I am thoroughly satisfied that so long as we have in reality a republican form of government in the United States of America the principles and governmental doctrines for which Confederate soldiers fought will live. Confederate soldiers were not "rebels"; they fought and contended for rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution, and the mere fact of our defeat should not be taken as evidence that our cause was not just. It was clearly a case in which "might triumphed over right."

 

Nathan DeWitt Bachman