Accounts of War

David Porter Garnhart

“David P. enlisted under the Old Flag Aug 12, 1862, and served in Co. H of the 92d Reg’t Ill. V. Infantry, until discharged, June 2, 1865. He fought in thirty-three battles, and in some of the bloodiest, as at Chickamauga and Resaca but was so fortunate as to escape without a scratch. The fortunes of war seem to be as variable and capricious as the wind. The strange thing is not that many get killed and maimed, but that the greater number usually escape unharmed. Think of armies battling fiercely for hours and days, and charging and counter-charging, and shells and shot and bullets filling the air sometimes almost as thick as the flakes of snow in a winter storm, and yet the majority escaping without a scratch. And favored certainly is the man who goes through thirty-three battles without a hurt.

“The battle of Chickamauga is especially impressed on David’s memory. It was in this great struggle that Wilder’s division, to which the 92d Illinois belonged, and Colonel Minty’s Cavalry brigade, fighting dismounted, to which his cousin, John B. Sees, belonged, sustained the weight of the shock on the first day, when the Confederate army under Bragg undertook by a furious rush to crush the Union center under General Thomas. Wilder and Minty had aligned their forces behind rail barricades, from which they coolly poured on the enemy, when he had approached within thirty or forty yards, a deliberate and most terrific, continuous, death-dealing fire with their repeating Spencer rifles, and after repelling him a number of times in about two hours’ time, compelled him to withdraw. These doughty brigades thus remained in position on the front line, ready at any moment for a renewal of the assault, until four o’clock the next morning, when they were relieved by General Palmer’s division, to which our plucky juvenile kinsman, Nathan Kinman, belonged and carried a gun and a knapsack. Both armies during the night prepared for a still bigger fight, and the next day one of the great battles of the war was fought. Taken all in all, it may not be claimed as a positive victory for the Union army, which barely escaped meeting with a great disaster; and neither was it a triumph for Bragg, who lost Chattanooga by it, and two-thirds of his army. But to General Thomas, who did the hardest fighting, it is conceded to have resulted in a splendid victory, and it was here that he won his well-deserved sobriquet of ‘The Rock of Chickamauga.’

“The soldier’s life in camp is made up of many kinds of experiences, not often so unpleasant to dwell on as the details of human slaughter. After the battle of Chickamauga David was detailed on special duty, and was sent into camp on the north side of the Tennessee River. Having nothing to eat for several days but grated corn, he and one of the detail sallied out one day to forage for something they thought better. Seeing some hogs in a field, David proposed that they would have some fresh pork for a change. They tied their horses, shot one of the hogs and dragged it into the shade under a tree, and proceeded to skin and dress it. They had not quite finished when the owner suddenly confronted and surprised them—‘a stately woman,’ said David, ‘as tall and slender as a fence rail.’ She complained that it was hard for her to lose her hogs, and they murmured that it was hard for them to live on grated corn. After some further parley she insisted that they should divide the carcass with the Johnnies, and that they might keep the head and the entrails. They meekly agreed to consider the suggestion, but—they divided the carcass with their own better-appreciated and more-appreciative messmates” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 278-280).

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