After the regiment had
left the Army of the Potomac and had been sent to the West, correspondence
from it ceased almost completely. Captain Domschle, who earlier had always
something interesting to share with the reader of the Herald, languished
in southern captivity; others did not want to and could not correspond
regularly with a newspaper. Mail connections grew worse every day, and
it happened that the friends of the regiment, if they did not have industrious
correspondents in the regiment themselves, remained in the dark about the
experiences of the regiment while it operated in the West. [P. 2]
The interest which Germans still have in the regiment is so lively that even at this late time, when the regiment has already been disbanded and its members have already returned to their earlier peace-time activities, a short account of its operations will certainly be read with interest. Following an expressed desire, I have decided to describe briefly the experiences of the regiment since October, 1863; and if the short half-hour of reading of this account passes quickly for the interested reader, and if an old member of the Twenty-Sixth, in the peaceful circle of his family, sitting with the youngest child on his arm, comfortably smoking a cigar or his pipe, at the memory of the hardship and dangers which he has experienced, the heat and the cold, the dust and [P. 3] the cold rain, feels a pleasant shudder and wraps himself more tightly in his dressing-gown, these pages will not hove lost their purpose.
After the battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863, when Rosecrans had forced himself into Chattanooga and found his lines of communication with Nashville broken, and needed help, Corps 11 and 12 of the Army of the Potomac were sent to him. In Corps 11 at that time was the Twenty sixth, and so we find the Regiment on Oct. 2, 1863, in Bridgeport, Ala., at the railroad leading to Chattanooga, recovering from the rigors of a long trip in packed railroad cars. But the quiet would not last long; late in the evening of the 9th our entire Brigade was awakened, loaded into freight cars, and we rode back, as quickly as the locomotive could [P. 4] take us, to Cawan in Tennessee, where a while earlier a party of rebels had shot the watch and had filled up the railroad tunnel. We combed the area carefully, but did not find the rebels, and occupied ourselves with clearing the tunnel. In the evening we rode back to Bridgeport, where we occupied our old camp, and remained until the 27th of the same month. Although we were at peace here, the time was hardly very pleasant. The "crackers" were indeed very large, but while their number was smaller, their appetite grew ever larger. The smallest number of the men had blankets, the baggage of the officers had not arrived yet, good wood was rare, and the nights were bitterly cold. If one woke up in the night from [P.5] the cold, he hit the tent sides with his feet, swung his arms, and tried with these exercises to warm himself somewhat. It was not uncommon that some of the officers had left their only uniforms to be washed, and under the pretext that they were sick, wrapped themselves in their blankets until the uniforms were dry, which led to some merriment among the veterans. But Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, and the Twenty-Sixth could not stay in Bridgeport although it had been in no way Paradise for a long time. On Oct. 27th the 11th Corps and with it-the 2nd Division of the 12th Corps went to Chattanooga. At Bridgeport we crossed the Tennessee and moved along the railroad through Shellmound and Wauhatchie to Lookout Valley, where in the evening of the 28th we [P.6] pitched camp in the shadows of Lookout Mountain. There are in military life several totally unpleasant things, and among these undoubtedly be longs a night attack by the enemy. When one, after a long, difficult day’s march, finally has given himself up to Test and sweet dreams, when one, despite the hard bed and cold feet, sinks deeper and deeper into sleep, and is then aroused, startled--he hears the thunder of cannon, the chatter of muskets, he feels it coming closer, and is caught in the tumult, he has really every reason to become indignant and angry. We had all on the evening of the 28th already gone to sleep, the campfires had been put out and in the whole camp deathly stillness reigned, as suddenly the signal to fall in was sounded. Alarm was sounded everywhere [P. 7] and immediately everyone was on his feet. Longstreet had attacked the Division of the 12th Corps, which camped app. a mile away from us, in front of dd Lookout Mountain, with the purpose of exterminating it before we could hurry to its assistance. The plan was thwarted by the good discipline and the courage of the troops. Despite the surprise, they repelled the attack brilliantly. The 11th Corps hurried over, too, from the enemy several hills which he had occupied, and the battle was over. Our regiment did not participate in the fighting and suffered no casualties. But on the next day two of our soldiers were seriously wounded by-shells coming from Lookout Mountain. From that time until the 11th of November we moved in the valley, building ramparts and leaving them, and always expecting the enemy with tight rations, and without sufficient [P. 8] protection against the intolerable weather, we were heartily happy to finally receive the order to build an orderly camp.
But man proposes and Grant disposed. We had hardly built our huts, and had settled in them, when our Corps on the 22nd received the order to march to Chattanooga, three miles away, really without knapsacks, and with rations for three days. Grant had assembled a large force at Chattanooga. Sherman had come from Mississippi with his “Vicksburgers”, and Thomas' army was strengthened by our Corps 11 and 12. The rebel army was divided, Longstreet held Burnside surrounded in Knoxville, while Brag sat with the greater part of the army with the greatest feeling of security behind his trenches on Mission Ridge and Lookout Mountain. [P.9] The opportunity to avenge for the blow at Chickamauga was there, and it was taken. On the night of the 22nd we camped on the plain of Chattanooga opposite the enemy, who on his secure height did not suspect that the lively activity and the preparations in the valley had great importance for him. On the 23rd it happened; the 11th Corps marched in parade step up, Mission Ridge, and soon the skirmish line was involved in lively fighting. But for the moment it remained there, breastworks were built, and we spent the night behind them. On the next day the right -wing of the army, was in action; Hooker with one division of the 12th Corps and Osterhaus' troops was storming Lookout Mountain. Despite nearly insurmountable obstacles, the undertaking was successful; from stone to stone, from rock to rock, from breastwork to breastwork the enemy was driven out, ever [P. 10] higher up the mountain, until he surrendered and Lookout Mountain was ours. Thomas also made his presence felt with his brave men he stormed Mission Ridge, breaking through the enemy's center, taking many cannon, and almost capturing Bragg himself. Fortunately for him, he escaped. We changed our position a little during the day, but did not take part in the battle. On the next day our division was sent to the far left in order to guard against an attack from the flank. The attack did not come, and that same night the enemy retreated. They followed him for twenty miles, and our Corps turned to the left with Sherman’s army in order to proceed to the aid of Burnside, who was pressed at Knoxville. The march the beautiful East Tennessee valley will always remain for us a pleasant memory, although the cold nights because of the lack of blankets and [P. 11] tents, which we had left behind in our knapsacks, caused as great discomfort. The area was charming, the cities neat, the people respectable the girls pretty and friendly, find the chickens not too timid. When we came to Little River, some 17 miles from Knoxville, and heard that Longstreet had taken to his heels, and that we were no longer needed. We turned about, and returned to our beloved Lookout Valley, where we came on December 17, after an absence of nearly four weeks, and without losing one man in the entire campaign. We put up our huts again, and established ourselves as at home, but on January 25, 1864 we had to leave our camp again and were sent to Whiteside, some 13 miles from Chattanooga, on the line leading to Nashville. Despite hard picket and fatigue duty, we stayed [P. 12] the winter were most pleasantly. The weather was magnificent, the rations good, the brandy abundant, and we left Whiteside most unwilling. But here, just as at a beer table in Milwaukee, rebellion could not be suppressed, and on April 23 came the order to march. Our Corps had in the mean while been disbanded and out of the 11th and 12th Corps had been formed the 20th Corps, under Hooker. Our regiment became part of the third Brigade of the third Division (Butterfield's), of the 20th Corps. The universally loved Gen. Schurz received no command in the new Corps. April 23 we left our camp and marched to Lookout Valley, there we joined our new Brigade. It composed, besides ourselves, of purely American regiments, whom we learned to appreciate and respect.
And now came the great Atlanta campaign under Gen. Sherman. [P. 13] The great army, which had gathered during the winter months in and around Chattanooga under the Generals Thomas, Schofield, and McPherson, was organized, equipped, and ready to march. Thus, on May 2 came the order to march for our division, and, climbing over Lookout Mountain, we crossed Taylor's Ridge and Gordon's Spring and entered Dogwood Valley, where we camped on the night of the 7th. The enemy had occupied a position three miles from there, in the pass at Buzzard Roost; on the next day, our brigade was sent there for reconnaissance, and entered a hot skirmish, and suffered the loss, of 2 men, both seriously wounded.
On the 11th we proceeded toward Snake Creek Gap. McPherson occupied it, threatened Resaca, which lay behind the enemy lines, and thus the enemy was forced to abandon his strong fortifications and advantageous [P. 14] position, in order to defend that point. It was no simple matter for the army, with its colossal transport train, to cross the pass, nearly three miles long. The road was simply terrible, and it took a great amount of work to get it into usable condition. On the 13th, we occupied a position in front of the enemy, who had built up extensive fortifications, some two miles from Resaca. During this day and the one following, there was extensive firing along the entire front line, and we again suffered several casualties. On the 15th our Corns was again sent to the left wing in order to attempt there an attack on the enemy defenses. The terrain was hilly, over-grown with brush, and most importantly totally unsuited for an attack. Moreover, one could not see the enemy trenches, and it seemed that no one had a correct idea of their situation and strength. But the attack carried out. Our regiment, standing on the right wing of the brigade had the assignment of storming from [P. 15] front a hill, on which the strong front line of the enemy was situated. This was done without difficulty, and we halted here temporarily. The first and second brigades of our division, which had to make the real attack, now stormed past us toward the enemy defenses, and the "Battle at Resaca" began. Our brigade was now I ordered to the front, and there in the valley before us, there was not enough room for all the troops, and complete confusion reigned. Regiments and brigades crossed through each other, and everything stormed the enemy without any order. But the difficulties of the terrain were too great, to make it possible for a closed mass of men to reach the defenses; and although the latter were occupied here and there, and our troops established them selves so close to an enemy battery, that it fell into our hands during the night, nevertheless, despite repeated attacks, the operation [P. 16] on the whole could not be termed a success. Our losses f or the day numbered six dead and forty wounded. During the night the enemy, for whom the position had become uncomfortable, pulled out to the South, and on the next day our entire army turned in pursuit. We went through Resaca, over the Coosewattee River, and on the 19th again encountered the enemy in the vicinity of Cassville, where he was driven back behind his fortifications, without losses on our side. Here we had several days of rest and then proceeded southward. We passed the enemy position at Allattona, leaving it at our left, and proceeded past Burnt Hickory over the mountains toward Dallas, where the enemy, leaving his earlier strong position, threw himself against us. The second division of our Corps, which reached the vicinity of Dallas first, was attacked, and held its position only with difficulty, until later in the day, when our division, and the first one arrived at the scene of battle and contributed to the action. It was [P. 17] already growing dark when the first Division, and our brigade, from our division, were ordered to counter attack. Step by step, slowly but surely the enemy was forced back, and finally thrown back behind his fortifications with heavy casualties. In our regiment 5 were killed, 32 wounded, and 2 missing. Meanwhile, the sky had become cloudy, and it began to rain in streams. The darkness was so great that one did not dare to move if he did not want to get lost in the forest. We could not see his hand in front of his face, and several, who were looking for their regiment, or wanted to visit the outposts, fell into the hands of the Rebels. Then, a short time before the air had been filled with the noise of battle, one heard now only the monotonous rustle of the rain, interrupted by the horrible moaning of' the wounded. Every bolt of lightning shed grisly light on the distorted faces of the dead who lay around us, and it was on the whole a horrible night, which we remain in our memories for a long time. [P. 18]
In the following days we built fortifications, and we remained there until the 1st of June, on which day our Corps was again dispatched to the left, and followed the retreating enemy slowly to Pine Knob, where we remained in close vicinity of the enemy until the 15th. On the 16th the enemy began to retreat further, followed by our troops. This time, the front line of our Regiment captured a Rebel flag. Now the enemy occupied his position at Kennesaw Mountain, which had been prepared for a long g time, and was exceedingly strong. On the 22nd our entire Corps drew closer to the enemy position, and our brigade entered into a fierce battle which resulted in the enemy's being expelled from his original position and forced behind his main fortifications. Capt. Fuchs, who on this day had command of the skirmishers of the brigade, shone in his Division. [P. 19] Our regiment lost 9 dead and 10 wounded. On the next day our Division was again placed on the right wing, and occupied a position at Powder Spring Road, which we held under fire from the enemy until the 3rd of July. On this day we joined the pursuit of the retreating enemy, and camped for the night near Nicks Jack Creak. On the next day we went on, and on the 6th, some two miles from the Chattahoochee River, over which the enemy had fled, we pitched camp and had several days of quiet.
While we rested here, General Schofield with his Corps established a crossing over the Chattahoochee, and our Corps followed him on the 17th. We were now some seven miles northeast of Atlanta, and slowly advanced toward the city. On July 20 we crossed Peach Tree Creek, without encountering the enemy. The army of the enemy had in the meantime replaced the careful Johnston with the impatient Hood and expected an attack from [P. 20] this hothead. Our corps had crossed the creek around 2 P. M., and we camped some 200 paces from it, in the, line of battle; directly in front of us was a chain of hills, which were occupied by our outposts. The heat and the exhaustion had closed almost all the eyes, when suddenly the shout of "The enemy, the enemy!” sounded. And so it was Hood was there and wanted for the first time, and at the expense of the 20th Corps to release the entire impetus of his military genius. The "Chivalry" advanced toward us, regiment after regiment in uninterrupted lines, row after row; proud, upright, and marching well, so long as they were not within the reach of our rifles, and then wavering, hesitating and finally running disgracefully -- but that comes later. Hardly had the first shots been heard, our entire division was on its feet, and we marched forward into the battle line. We had to reach the top of the line of hill before the enemy, in order to be able to repel his attack more easily from [P. 21] there. But the enemy reached the top before we did, end as we were also very near it, a deadly line of fire was established at a very short distance. On the right and left batteries of twelve ponders thundered, add a really hellish noise to the scene. Our regiment was at first on the far left of the Corps, and there between it and the fourth Corps, which was to join us at our left, there was a significant breach, into which the Rebels forced their way, and received from our regiment a line of fire from the flank that was nothing less than pleasant. Finally, finally, the Rebels began to waver in our front. At first one by one, and then in larger numbers they threw down their weapons and ran hailing from the scene, and the boys along the entire line of the division needed no command to move forward. With wild hurrahs they sprang forward in no time were at the top of the hill, pushed the Rebels down, who immediately took to flight, and the day was ours, a brilliant victory had been won. [P. 22]
Our regiment had been opposed by the 33rd Mississippi Regiment, and on this occasion was almost exterminated by the 260 rifles of the 26th. Some 40 prisoners were in our hands; the commanding officer and some 30 men were buried by us and many wounded were taken to the hospitals. Moreover, their banner fell into our hands. The losses of our regiment were 9 dead and 36 wounded. Here also fell the Captains Seeman and Muller, and Lieutenant Wollmer was mortally wounded.
Several days later the regiment received the following excerpt from the official report of the Brigade Commander: “When everyone fought so bravely, it might seem offensive to center attention on individuals, but it seems to me that I would not be fulfilling my duty in this report if I were not to mention the conduct of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and its brave and able commander and elevate it to special praise. The position of this regiment in the line of battle was of the kind that the brunt [P. 23] of the attack directed against this brigade, fell upon the regiment. The courageous, able, and resolute manner in which it bore the attack, repulsed it, turned to counterattack and drove off the enemy, cannot be surpassed by troops in this or any other army, and is deserving of the highest praise it is only to be hoped that such conflict should serve as an example to others, and that it find it merited reward."
On the 22nd we left the field of battle and drew within two miles of Atlanta, where we occupied a position. The siege of the city now began, and our travail and dangers were not. The positions were often changed. Breastworks which had just been occupied were abandoned, and during the night others were built, closer to the enemy, upon which the latter, every morning, as soon as he discovered them, opened up a trifling bombardment. One was not certain of his life for a moment. [P. 24] While eating and drilling, while playing cards or sleeping, people were killed or wounded. One had to be always ready for battle, as an attack could come at any moment. The rations were also bad, and soon scurvy appeared. Then to our great joy a change in the program finally came about on the 25th of August. Sherman lifted the siege of the city in order to attack the Macon Railroad with his enemy, thus breaking the only line of communication which Hood had with the South, and to force the latter to abandon Atlanta. Our Corps was sent back to the Chattahoochee, in order to hold the crossings over the latter, and thus cover our own communication lines, as well as the retreat of our army. Here we remained until the 4th of September, on which day it became apparent that the city had been abandoned by the Rebels and was open to us. On the next day our brigade. He was sent into the city and occupied a beautiful camping place. We had hardly settled there when came the order to break camp, [P. 25] and we had to occupy a camp at Chattahoochee again.
Hood meanwhile, who could not bear the loss of Atlanta, sought to regain it by means of a courageous flaking, maneuver, and moved past Atlanta on the west side, advancing northward. Obviously, he intended to attack our railroad between Chattanooga and Atlanta, thus breaking our connections. Sherman, having the 20th Corps in Atlanta and on the Chattahoochee moved slowly along the railroad with the remaining Corps, the 4th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 23rd, keeping Hood an arm's length away, and slapping him from time to time.
Meanwhile, at Atlanta it began to look extremely suspicious. Trains came in empty from the North, and went back loaded with heavy artillery and munitions. Every day preparations were made and orders given which pointed to an approaching march and everyone thought that Atlanta would [P. 26] be abandoned, and we would have to retreat. Finally we began to tear down the larger buildings, as well as those which had been used as depots by the government; under other houses mines were laid, and any moment could complete the work of destruction, when Sherman appeared on the scene. Leaving Hood far to the north at the disposal of the Generals Thomas and Schofield, he had marched south with the 14th, 15th, and 17th Corps, and appeared again at Atlanta with his suntanned veterans in the middle of November. Now it became clear to us that Atlanta would really be abandoned, but we would be goings forward instead of back. The railroad to Chattanooga was already torn up, the last letters were written, and all connection with the civilized world was broken. Where we would so now and where we would next see the light of duty was still unknown to us. [P. 27] Some thought that Montgomery and Mobil were our goal, others thought that we would be going to Charleston, There, the majority correctly guessed, Savannah. Alone, standing in the middle of enemy territory, cut off from all reinforcements and help, we still had, in our limitless confidence in our leader, not the slightest fear about our safety. Holding tight our best friend, the musket, and with the caps thrust down on our lines were ready to defy Lee, Jefferson Davis, and the entire Confederacy.
On November 16th the entire army, consisting of some 60,000 men, had camped in The trains were loaded with provisions, consisting of crackers, bacon, coffee, and sugar for some thirty days, and with sufficient munitions everything was ready for marching. The army was re-baptized and was now called "The Army of Georgia"; Corps 14 and 20 made up the left and Corps 15 and 17 the right wing. Kilpatrick’s cavalry, with some 6,000 men, made up the vanguard. [P. 28]
On the next day the gigantic line was set in motion, every Corps establishing a path for itself, are, while Corps 15 and 17 turned south toward Macon, Corps 14 and 20 marched eastward, along the Atlanta and Augusta Railroad. The area which we traversed in the first two days was already known to most of our troops, as they had crossed it earlier; also, the town of Decatur and Stone Mountain, which raises its bald head here, had been part of McPherson's operations before the taking of Atlanta was he had destroyed the railroad here. It would not be interesting for the reader, were I to describe every day's marches, as the description of only one will give him a sufficient picture of the life and activity of Sherman's army on the "great march". Every morning at four o’clock', or earlier reveille was sounded, and the division which had the vanguard that day had to be ready to march. About an hour was given for preparation [P. 29] and eating breakfast, and then we heard: "Forward!” A small detachment of cavalry went to the front, carefully looking in every direction, and the carbines always ready. Then followed the head of the infantry, consisting of six or seven men, some three hundred yards behind followed a company of infantry, and another 300 yards behind came the rest of the first regiment. At some distance this was followed by the pioneers of the division, armed with shovels, and stopping from time to time in order to improve bad spots in the road. Behind the pioneers finally came the remainder of the first division, winding like a monstrous snake-covered hills and through valleys, across brush and fields. This division was usually accompanied by two batteries, each with four pieces. Now came the giant train of the Corps. It consisted of some 1100 wagons, each pulled by six mules; we reckoned that on the average 100 of these wagons stretched over [P. 30] the length of one mile, and therefore the train alone was some eleven miles long. Along this train, as protection for it proceeded the second division in a long, thin line, and the train was followed, by the third division, marching up the tail of the long line. The division which was at the head today would be the last tomorrow, and the following division would be the first. Occasionally there were changes in the order of march; if we were believed to be near the enemy, usually two divisions marched in front of the train, so that they might come more quickly into battle order and be better prepared to repulse an attack, while the third division followed slowly with the train. Occasionally, every division marched with its own train. The head of the Corps pulled out of camp at five o'clock in the morning, and the last division did not leave it until [P. 31] about eleven, for it look a full six hours for the train to be organized one line. If the head of the Corps came to a new campsite at five in the afternoon, the last Regiments came only late at night, or at two or three the next morning to catch a couple of hours of sleep and then proceed further. If one arrived early enough to camp to pitch tents and to be able to establish oneself comfortably, a royal life began; hardly the weapons out down and the command to break ranks given, the whole regiment would break laughing and shouting into a race for the nearest fence, in order to get the picket. Immediately the fence would disappear and the camp would become a forest of pickets. Often three or four solders would join a partnership, throw their pickets together in a pile, and while one sat on it and thus indicated his right of ownership, the others would carry load after load into camp. Then they would hurry into the forest, in order to find poles for the tents, taking the oil blankets along and filling it with pine needles, which, cut off the branches in bushels, made magnificent mattresses. The material for the best comfort is now present; the tent is put up in no time, the “down” is spread on the ground, the oil blanket is laid on it, the woolen covers (if there are any) are put on top, the knapsack will serve as a pillow, the rifle and the cartridge pouch are laid in the driest place in the tent, and the home is ready, built and furnished in half an hour. Now we’ve come to the preparation of dinner; one has already carefully considered, whether this time he will have bacon (vulgo sowbelly") with hardtack or hardtack with bacon. The supply is subjected to a scrupulous examination and then divided, so that it might last the prescribed time. When out of the depths, of the haversack a mysterious bundle is extracted -- sometimes it's a former sock or a retired glove, and it contains (forgive [P. 33] me, fair reader!) coffee or sugar. A handkerchief is also most practical as one can out the sugar in one end of it, and the coffee in the other. Some soldiers are so lucky as to have a tin can for this purpose.
The pickets have now been split, the fire, lit, the black kettles filled with water, the bacon cut and put in the pans, and a half hour later a most magnificent meal is smoking, in the tent. As later the foraging began the choice naturally became greater, and many a soldier spent half the night, despite weariness and lack of sleep, behind his frying pan, surrounded by his turkeys, chickens, and sweet potatoes, cooking and eating, eating and cooking. Hungry stilled, or, as often happen only half stilled, the fire is poked once again, we talk, for half an hour [P. 34] and than go to bed, or more exactly, to ground. In a while everything is quiet, and one can hardly believe that in a small circle ten thousand men are sleeping. Here there stands a lonesome night guard, leaning on his rifle and hanging on to his thoughts; the fire go out slowly, and the white tents peer out ghostly from the darkness.
At four, while everything is still covered by darkness, the bugle sounds from the division headquarters, and reveille to the disgust of all those asleep, calls to rise. The buglers of the brigade answer, and they are followed-by the drums, fifes, and bugles of the regiments; such a hellish noise is made, than even the sleepiest wake up. The orderlies shout, "Fall in for roll call!", and one after the other we crawl shivering from the tents, in order to stand in line and shout "Here', when your names are called. Then the fires are lit again, and breakfast is [P. 35] prepared, exactly as the dinner had been, the tents are taken down and held near the fires, as they had become wet from the dew. The knapsacks are packed, the rifles inspected and rubbed, the pipe is placed within reach, and everyone is ready to march.
In the first few days of our trip it seemed that would have to live off the supplies which we carried with ourselves; the land had nothing to offer, and the few families which we encountered lived in hunger and misery. But on the third day the appearances already changed; before our delighted eyes appeared the most beautiful little sucklings and hogs; chickens, geese and turkeys chattered at us, from the heights, sweet potatoes in the cellars longed for fresh air and the frying pan and in the full barn's golden grain for horses and mules lay laughing. With us everything was rejuvenated with the planters, everything ceased to live. [P. 36]
The health situation improved daily, all signs of scurvy disappeared and the men, despite the work, and excursion, become stronger and the distribution of rations from the wagons, other than coffee and sugar, was discontinued almost completely, and every regiment was told: “Help yourself". We did not need to be told that twice, and Georgia’s plantation owners can testify to the fact that we did our work foraging soon became a well-regulated system every morning some 25 men and an officer from every regiment were assigned to this duty. Early in the morning they left they regiments, and leaving the army behind, penetrated side-ways into the bushes. As soon as a house was discovered, they rushed upon it in the greatest hurry. As a party was sent from each of the 45 regiments of the Corps, usually it happened that 3 or 4 of them came to [P. 37] the same house at the same time, as they observed the saying "First come, first served”, naturally everyone ran as quickly as possible to the house. The women and children who lived there heard and saw their misfortune coming from a distance and ran crying back and forth; the dogs howled, and the pigs full of horrible presentiments, ran squealing, trying to escape from the courtyard; chickens and geese sought protection under the house, and the hens gathered their chicks around them, fearfully. Then the storm falls from the front and the rear, through the doors and over the fence, and from all sides a hundreds fellows appear, looking much wilder than they really are, in the house and in the yard. The question of the moment is "'Where is your meat and where are your potatoes?" And without listening to the answer, “We have none", everything is overturned and inspected. Twenty busy hands are rummaging through the larder, the cellar is inspected everywhere, the whole house is combed from top to bottom, [P. 38] and almost always with success. There is food in the beds and under them and ham and potatoes are extracted from the most secret places. Meanwhile, in the yard and in the stalls it is no less lively -- wherever the round looks suspicious, is dug up in order to see whether some food had not been buried under it. Pigs are slaughtered in the yard in order to be finally roasted on the bayonet, and the chickens are pursued and executed with long sticks. The Negroes must confess where their "Massas." had buried his things, and the Negresses are convinced, with a few compliments, to tell their friends the Yankees everything. As soon as we are finished with one plantation, we go to the next, until, loaded to capacity, we have to think about returning. Often one had to march for a long time until he saw in the distance the long train of the army wagons, and knew that he was near his regiment. The foragers often had to cover twenty or twenty-five miles in this manner, and one can [P. 39] how happy they are when they reached the camp. The area through which we were marching was beautiful; plantations, often with beautiful houses bush and field, hill and valley followed each other, the road were not too bad, and so we came without great difficulty to the little town of Madison, some sixty miles from Atlanta. The joy of the Negroes at our arrival in the city was they came from far and wide to greet their friends, the Yankees, and while they laughed and grinned on the street, danced to the beat of the music, and talked to the soldiers, and had a good time, their white masters and mistresses locked themselves in their houses, cursing the common Yankees and the Negroes. And how superior they felt, in their stupidity, when they looked at the streets from behind them behind their window shades, and saw how [P. 40] the black and white “pack” mingled in colorful activity; in the friendly way and manner in which the Yankee treated the Negro they only saw the lowly origin and common character of the former. But soon they would have to recognize that every one of these common soldiers was far above them in intelligence and education; but this made no impression on their pride, they, the master race, wanted to have nothing in common with the Yankees -- not even education. And still today they do not realize that they must pick themselves up and out of their ignorance, but they must learn and work like other people, and that they, if they oppose every idea and all progress as before, would be trampled in the dust by unstoppable spirit of the times. And they despised Negro himself as soon as he is given the rights of a free man, will pass his former master with [P. 41] great strides, and left behind by humanity, “chivalry” will languish and expire in misery.
In Madison we burned the first whipping-pen; amid the sounds of "Yankee Doodle” and "Hail Columbia” was the fire lit, to the greatest rejoicing of the blacks gathered there.
Instead of continuing our march eastward, as before we suddenly turned to the south end, it became clear to everyone that would pay a visit to Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia. We entered the city without opposition, just as the legislator which had been in session the despite its patriotic resolution to defend the city to the last man had left. In the capitol, a large and attractive building, every thing was still ready for business, and the un-passed bills still lay on the desks of the members of the legislature. In the evening, a great number [P. 42] of officers found themselves in the hall of the Senate, and it was decided to hold a session. A speaker was elected, and then the “Ordinance of Secession" was read with great jubilation; other very amusing bills were passed after long debates, until someone shouted, "The Yankees are coming", at which time, senators, to the great enjoyment of all spectators, took to their heels.
Here Gen. Sherman, who had remained with the 15th Corps, returned to us, and we heard that the right wing of the army, after it had passed Macon was now some fifty miles south of us, on the railroad between Macon and Millen. After had rested a day, we crossed the Oconee and set out to the east. The 14th Corps marched to the north of us, and to the south, marching in a parallel direction with us, were the15th and 17th Corps. The land which lay between the columns was scrupulously plucked [P. 43] by the foragers, and there could be no Rebel scouts there, 40t to speak of large detachments of Rebel cavalry our flanks were thus completely protected, and the enemy never had an opportunity to attack us unforeseen
Here and there, primarily where the road led through swamps, it was blocked by fallen trees, an obstacle which our strong pioneers removed from the road in an instant. The bridges, of course, were either burned or demolished, but our engineers built pontoons here in a short time. Usually at every creek or river there was a small battle in which small parties of Rebel cavalry tried to contest the crossing by our vanguard. While the firing was going, on at the crossing a party of our men waded across the river or creak either above or below the skirmish, and attacked the Rebels, who jumped on their horses and rode off in a cloud of dust. [P. 44] We continued thus, singing and burning and leaving a wasteland behind, as well as barns, cotton gins and presses were burned, and vacant houses, when we had to march at night, even the fences there lit up for better illumination and heating. We expected that the enemy would attack us at Millen and the army columns directed their march to that point. The Ogeechee was crossed and we reached Millen, but the enemy was not there. The right wing, while it marched along the railroad from Atlanta to Augusta up to Madison, and Kilpatrick’s cavalry stout to destroy a long stretch of the road from Savannah to Augusta, above Millen, so that the railroad connections of Georgia were now in a very precarious situation. [P. 45] At Millen we again turned to the right, and approached Savannah. On the right, had the Ogeechee, on the left the Savannah, and before us was hurrying Hardee with his 15,000 hurriedly gathered militiamen to the threatened city. The area here became low, flat, and sandy, and plantations became less common. We proceeded without rest, and on December 10, after we had been almost a month on the road, we formed battle lines four miles from Savannah, and began to build a camp around the city. The great march had ended, but its goal, Savannah, was not yet ours. In the mouth of the Ogeechee lay our fleet, heavily loaded with provisions, but could not reach us, as Fort McAllister with its 70 cannon covered the river. The fort had to be taken, and Hagen's division of 15th Corps was ordered to attack. The battle was hot and grew even hotter; our men had to push through swamps and bushes and obstacles of every sort, while the [P. 46] guns of the fort rained a hall of grapeshot upon them. Finally, after a bloody battle which lasted several hours, the walls were scaled, and the nation’s flag waved over Fort McAllister. Those of the Rebels who did not immediately surrender were flattened with rifle-buts. Communications were established with the fleet, and Sherman's army saved from hunger. The defenses lines of the city were situated some three miles from it and were well built and strong, stocked with heavy cannon, which, however, were little used, as on the soft around no good positions could be found for them, and they could be used by themselves to repel an attack. As soon as Sherman was ready for offensive operations, he demanded that Hardee surrender, but received no reply. Preparations for a total attack were now made, and I believe the day and hour for it ha been decided [P. 47] upon, when in the night from the 20th to the 21st, the enemy left the city leaving his cannon behind. On the 21st we occupied the city, and we set up a nice camp near it. The inhabitants of the city had remained for the most part, and as we also found Germans among them. We felt that had almost returned to civilized life. Visits were made concerts given, and one day the officers of our regiment even received invitations to a German gymnastic group. We hardily spent ten days this way, then the order to march came again, and our division, leaving beautiful Savannah, was loaded on steamers, crossed the wide Savannah river and landed in South Carolina. We had to march through rice fields for several miles, until we reached hard ground, and found a camping place. We stayed here several weeks, during which it was often bitter cold, and [P. 48] then marched some 12 miles further up the river to the town of Hardeeville where we again camped several weeks. The right wing of our army had (nnean while been transported by sea and had landed at Hilton Head, from where it took possession of the Pacataglio bridge, and was then ready for a new campaign. On the 28th of January this campaign began for us and leaving the Savannah, we penetrated deeper into South Carolina. The 14th Corps and the second division of our Corps had not yet crossed the river, following us later. We found South Carolina to be nothing less than beautiful; land and swamp followed one after another, and small plantations with pine trees, our march was little different from the one through Georgia, except that the foraging was done differently and more practically. We had captured a great number of mules so that each Regiment had 40 or 50 of [P. 49] them, and could send out its foragers mounted. Harness and bridles became very highly valued, and those who could not find any used old blankets as saddles and ropes as bridles. The riders also cut a funny figure: his cap was without top or rim; his coat hung in shreds on his body; his rifle hung over his shoulder on belt, his knapsack on his back and on each side a large haversack without stirrups, his legs hung long on the skinny sides of the mule. On the heals of his shoes, if he still had shoes, or if his shoes still had heels, sharpened pieces of wood were fastened, which served as spurs. In the morning the whole party, consisting of 25-35 men, after they had finally saddled and mounted their stubborn mules with the aid of prolonged cursing, at the command of the officer and with the laughter of the onlookers, left on its mission. The [P. 50] frying pan and the tin cup, which hung at the head of saddle, came together at each step, and made devilish kind of music. When a ditch was crossed, regularly some of the mules and their riders fell, to the great delight of the rest. It is no wonder that a panic overtook the South Carolinians when they said such a wild army descend upon them in a rush with wild shouting. As the planters still had a great part of their winter's supply of salted meat, potatoes, etc., it was not difficult for our people to find a load for their mules, and they always returned to the regiment in the evening with heavy loads.
Several times we were attacked by detachments of Rebel cavalry, but we soon arrived, without having been stopped, to the railroad from Charleston to Augusta. As this was now the only road which connected the eastern States of the Confederacy with the western, it was necessary to destroy it [P. 51] completely, and with this purpose, we spent several days here. The rails were torn from the ties, which were laid in great piles, and the rails placed crosswise on these piles, the ties were then set on fire, and the rails glowed and bent, and became useless. When the work of destruction had been completed, proceeded in our march north to the left of us marched the cavalry and the 14th Corps, and to our right parallel with us, Corps 15 and 17. Our next goal was not Columbia, the capital of the state it was occupied by Gen. Hampton and his men, and they opposed the crossing of the river by the 15th Corps, which was the first to arrive there. As we then made preparations to cross upstream of the city, the enemy retreated and Columbia surrendered to Sherman. We did not go into [P. 52] the city, but following the Saluta and Broadriver, we marched to Winnesboro, then turned right, crossed the Wateree River, and came to Cheraw on the Great Pedee river. Here our regiment suffered a misfortune while we remained near Cheraw, Capt. Bartsch was sent with ten men to a nearby mill to get cornmeal for the regiment. As they were at work, they were surrounded by the Rebels, and not having time to reach for their weapons, were taken prisoner. We feared at first that they would be killed, as it had often happened, but later we discovered that our fears were ungrounded, are as we came to Milwaukee, we met all of them there.
At Cheraw we crossed the Pedee, entered North Carolina, and directed [P. 53] our march northward to Fayetteville. Here the entire army had concentrated and remained for several days. From Wilmington, which had been taken shortly before, came a steamer up the Cape Fear river, lend docked at Fayetteville, and here for the first time in six weeks we had the opportunity to write a letter home. From Fayetteville our division and the first division of our Corps, with two divisions of the 14th Corps, set out on the road to Raleigh, while the bulk of the army with the trains took the narrow road to Goldsboro. On the evening of March 15, our vanguard, Kilpatrick’s cavalry, encountered the enemy, and it became apparent the next morning that a significant force of the enemy, made up of infantry and artillery. Our division was brodd was blocking our way to battle order, and each [P. 54] regiment had to send out a company of skirmishers. These soon entered into a heated battle and they were able, after several hours, to drive a far stronger force of the enemy back over a mile, at which opportunity the first brigade of our division took several cannons from the enemy. It had, in the meantime, grown dark, and the battle ended. Our losses for the [P. 54] day numbered 9 dead, including Capt. Schmitt and Lieut. Klien, and 7 wounded. On the next morning, the enemy had gone. We followed him to the town of Averysboro, then turned to right, and set out on the road to Goldsboro. In the afternoon of the 19th of March, as we found ourselves in the village of Bentonville, we heard in front of us cannon and rifle fire, and received the command to double our marching speed. Johnston had attacked one of the divisions of the 14th Corps, which had been marching, unperturbed, and brought it to some confusion, and help was needled. [P. 55] The first division of our Corps was soon brought in line, and forced the enemy to flee. As our brigade came to the scene, it was immediately ordered to fill the gap between our Corps and part of the 14th Corps. As we pushed through the gap, we encountered in the thick forest the enemy, who was advancing in the same direction, and a bloody battle begun. The first line of the enemy gave way, and a second line was sent forward; this one also did not hold long and as the evening, came, the enemy retreated and left the battlefield to us. The loss of our brigade came to 150 men, as our regiment stood in the second line, we suffered the loss of 1 dead and 4 wounded. On the next day we built breastworks, and remained here several days. The enemy meanwhile left his position, and we marched [P. 56] further on the 22nd, crossed the Neuse river on the 23rd at Cose’s Bridge and entered Goldsboro on the 24th. We were truly happy that finally, after nearly two months of work, always beset with exertion and dangers, the great campaign was over, and settled down in comfortable camp. But after a few days our regiment again had to break camp and lead it wagon train to Kinston, 25 miles remaining from there, we occupied our camp, and remained here until the 10th of April. Several days earlier we had received the news of the taking of Richmond, and we were informed of a dispatch from Grant to Sherman, in which he said, “ Push Johnston, and we will finish up the job at once”. Therefore, on April 10, although the preparations had not been completed, we broke camp and marched to Raleigh. We expected to meet Johnston and his main strength in Smithfield, [P. 57] but, we found that he had already retreated to Raleigh, heard here, to our great joy, that Lee had surrendered to Grant, and were convinced that would soon force Johnston to the same action. On the 15th we came to Raleigh which had just been left by the enemy, and as we ddon the next morning, under a stormy rain, prepared to march further, we received the order to remain there. Waiting for news of the progress of the dealings between Sherman and Johnson we, pitched a nice camp in Raleigh, and spent very pleasant days, thanks to the good weather. On the 24th, Grant appeared in Raleigh, and it "appeared that Sherman’s activities had not been approved by the President, and we would have to proceed to the field once again on the 26th we made a day’s march to the southwest, and as the negotiation were renewed, we remained in place. Finally Johnston [P.58] surrendered, and rejoicing we received the order to turn about and march to Washington, in order to be mustered out there and sent home. We still had a long way before us; but were going home, and didn't let the grass grow under our feet. Every Corps marched back by itself, and it was a formal race among them, to see who would get to Richmond first. The area though which we marched was beautiful; the war was not laid waste to it, and everything was friendly and peaceful to us. In a triumph march we went through the streets of Richmond by Libby prison and Castle Thunder, and rejoiced at the happiness of the Negroes and the anger of the Whites. Then we went further, through the bloody fields of north Virginia, marching past the Spotsylvania Court House and through the Wilderness, and we came to the old battlefield at where we had camped for one night. We had made a complete circle now; two years before we had [P. 59] left the field and marched in a northerly detection, and now we came to it from the South. In the evening we visited the place where, two years before, our regiment had received its baptism of fire. On some of the graves we found shingles on which the names of the fall were written in pencil, but they were no longer legible.
On the next day we crossed the Rappahannock and crossing the area of Weaverville and Fairfax station, which we knew so well, we Finally came to Alexandria. On May 24th we crossed Long Bridge and proceeded to Washington, took part in the great review and then set up camp two miles from the city. Briskly we worked on our papers for mustering out, and on June 12 we were ready to go home. Loaded on freight cars, we rolled through Baltimore through Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, where we were hosted by the citizens. Then we went to Cleveland, where we were again received [P. 60] by the people; we went by steamer to Detroit, where we were met at the dock by men and women, sincerely received, and royally hosted. Detroit will always remain a pleasant memory to us. On the next morning we came to Grand Haven, and even the people of this small town went to great trouble to our short stay with them as pleasant as possible. On the steamboat Detroit we crossed lake Michigan, and on the afternoon of the 17th, finally, finally, after nearly three long years of privation and danger, we saw the longed-for Milwaukee. On the shore our friends and acquaintances were waiting for us, and prepared a magnificent reception for us, about which every man of the Twenty-Sixth will tell for many years often and with pleasure.
A week later the regiment was paid, every man received his discharge [P. 61] and the Twenty-Sixth ceased to exist. It held honorably fought and suffered for the fatherland; its courage was unsurpassed, its discipline exemplary, and it was true to the good cause in fortune and misfortune, in sad and happy times, and it is the greatest pride of its former members to be able to say: "I too was a member of the Twenty-Sixth"!
(The following memorandum was appended, in the same volume, to the document entitled "Toward a History of the Twenty-Sixth".
Kenilworth, June 18, 1911
The foregoing history
of the 26th Regt. Wisconsin Vol. Infantry was written by me in the summer
of 1865, within a short time after the Regiment had been mustered out,
and when the events were still fresh in my mind. It was, at the time published
in the "Milwaukee Herald" & has lately been copied for me from a copy
of that paper on file in the public library of Milwaukee. On reading the
account once again I find that it may convey the impression that our army
on its march through Georgia under Gen. Sherman wantonly destroyed property;
this should be corrected; when houses were burned, it was because our soldiers,
while foraging, had been fired upon from them, or because they stood empty
& all eatables had been removed, which angered the boys, who were hungry
& depended for their rations upon what they could find on the way.
During my experience of nearly three years in the field, I never heard
of a case where women or children had been insulted or molested by our
men, either in the cities which we captured, such as Atlanta, Savannah,
etc. or on the wayside in the country. In fact it happened often enough,
that our men would give of their scanty rations of coffee to poor people
along the route, nor did I ever hear of money or jewelry being taken. It
must not be forgotten that our army for the most part consisted of boys
from 20-25 years of age, and that the self-restraint, very often under
stress of great provocation, was, on the whole, remarkable; but not more
remarkable than the self-restraint shown by them and the people at large
in dealing with the leading rebels after the war. It seems that the generosity
of the Northern People as exhibited after the war, is little appreciated
when the people of Virginia foist upon them a statue of Gen. Lee in Confederate
uniform & the women (?) of Georgia erect a statue to Gen. Wirtz, the
Andersonville murderer of helpless federal prisoners.
What I say of southern whites in the foregoing article & their (????) is substantially correct - the present regeneration and prosperity of the South, is largely owing to the influx of Northern men and their capital, but the Negro has not come up to expectations - perhaps we of 1865 expected too much and did not fully realize the terrible and blighting effect of slavery, continued for several hundred years, upon the race.
In the summer of 1909, I wrote for Else and at her request, a short account of my war service, and inasmuch as this covers a period prior to the one covered by the foregoing history, and has a few personal references, which might interest my family, I copy the whole of this account here.
Biography by Betsy Morehouse
Brief History of the 26th Wisconsin by Francis Lackner