A Confederate Letter to James S. Hatch
Stories of the Battle of the Civil War-The Johnny Who Wore A Red Blanket in a Fight
Published in the Kendall County Record, April 26, 1911
Compiled by Jane Willey-Fey
The following letter will interest old and young as a description of the wartime of the 60's, when the blue and gray faced each other. It was written to Comrade James S. Hatch of Little Rock, a veteran of the gallant 36th Illinois, who keeps up a correspondence with old soldiers and often visits the southern battlefields. Comrade "Jim" spent many months in Confederate prisons and himself has many stories of the war to tell. But here is a Confederate soldier's account of his own experiences.
Memphis, Tenn., April 6, 1911.
Mr. J. S. Hatch, Plano, Ill.
Dear Sir: - I will hasten to reply to your kind and welcome letter. I am very glad you wrote to me. Yes, as you say, it was on the night of the 30th of December, 1862, that our division (Cheatham's) assumed our position in line of battle confronting your position, General Wither's Alabama division was in your front and was to make the attack at daylight, or soon there after. Cheatham was held in reserve to support him. Wither's Division did not stand it longer than about two rounds, and they came back, running over us. We were lying down. Cheatham passed the order down the line to raise and advance in line of battle on quick time; the way our boys did guy and jeer the Alabama was a caution. One of the boys said to a tall, long-legged fellow that was going in a trot, "Go to the rear you d__m sandlapper you, and let Tennesseans come; we will show you what men can do." The fellow replied, "Go on, and you will find it the d__dest, hottest place that you ever struck." We certainly did find it so.
Our brigadier general, Preston Smith, was sick at Atlanta, and Col. Vaughn of our regiment, the 13th, being the senior officer in the brigade, had command of the brigade. Lieutenant colonel, William E. Moran, and Major Cole were killed. The Adjutant's horse was killed and he was crippled by the fall of the horse on him, all in that first charge. Captain Lanier took charge and gallantly led us on foot until night closed on the bloody field.
The loss of our company was tremendous. We had 52 men in line that morning, at roll call that night, we had only fifteen for duty. Nine were killed on the field and twenty- eight wounded some very slightly, some very serious.
Our regiment suffered the heaviest loss at Stone River of any battle in which we were engaged, unless perhaps, Franklin; I cannot say, because I was not in that battle of Chicamauga, and it was some months before I was able to report for duty.
There was a fellow in our company by the name of Albert Atherton. He was a small spare-made man, but no better soldier ever drew a bead; he knew no fear, and was never known to miss a fight. It was pretty cold, as you will remember; he was rather thinly clad, as most of us were. He had an old turkey-red blanket that he used for his covering; when we had formed line of battle he took his blanket, laid it upon the ground, took his knife and began to cut a hole in the middle. Captain Mebans asked him what he was going to do with that blanket. He said he was going to wear it in that fight. The captain remonstrated with him and tried to persuade him not to wear it. He said, "Captain, if you say positively I must not wear it, I'll not do it." The captain said, "I'll not do that, Albert, but I hate to see you do it, for I believe you will be shot full of holes, in less than an hour." His reply was: "I would rather be shot full of holes than to freeze to death." And, sir, he wore that red blanket all day long in the thickest of the fight, and when night came on he was as black as a Negro, his face and hands, with gunpowder. He came out untouched.
I always viewed that as a miracle. Sometimes that fellow would be 20 or 30 steps ahead of the line, his red blanket a flopping; he was always a very busy man in a battle. I believe to my soul that he enjoyed the smoke and danger of a fight. He got through the war all right, and, if living, is in or near St. Louis.
I have read time and again about the battle of Franklin and heard the boys speak of it often, and from all accounts Opdyke's Brigade played a prominent part in that battle-- did some tall fighting.
You say you have never visited Memphis. We have a beautiful and growing city, beyond a doubt. They are speaking of having a reunion of the Blue and Gray this fall at the time of the Tri-State fair. General Gordon, our commander-in-chief, W. C. V., has given his endorsement to it. The committee, so the Memphis papers say, were going to extend an invitation to your commander of the G. A. R.
I like to have frozen to death the night before the fight at Stone River. We could not have a spark of fire. Every time we tried it, your battery would shoot it out, and our batteries did the same. I will be 70, November 25th, if I live. My letter is getting lengthy, so I will close. With best wishes for health and happiness. I am,
Yours, most truly,
A. H. Brown
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