As the sun set on the hot, humid day of June 3, 1863, the farm boys from Northeastern Ohio found whatever comfort they could along the soft knoll known as Culp’s Hill. It had been a very long day. The duty they had been thoroughly trained to accomplish included loading, aiming, and firing at their fellow countrymen in an effort to hold a specific position. They had done their duty. The remnants of manhood that lay spread along the base of Culp’s Hill attested to that. Duty. But in a much larger sense, what had been accomplished on that day, and would be accomplished on the next, is considered by most historians to be the beginning of the end of the Southern Rebellion.
As Lee pulled his wounded army out of Pennsylvania and headed back to Virginia, the drama that’s been playing out in Vicksburg, Mississippi finally came to its closing act. The surrender of that city made the Mississippi River a Northern river exclusively, while effectively cutting a third of the South away. Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri were now lost to the Confederacy as a means to supply their armies or to gather more soldiers. From here it was a matter of strangling the rest of the South into submission, and towards that end our boys from Northeast Ohio were given a new position from which to do their duty.
Tennessee beckoned the 7th and welcomed them with loathing. The fighting in the Western Theatre had been as brutal as the fighting in the East, but for the most part it had been a far more successful venture by the Northern armies. The strangling of the South meant pinching territory by various routes, with armies moving at the same time. In essence, the South didn’t have the manpower to stop three or four armies attacking on its border at the same time. Hence, the 7th OVI goes west young man, and joins the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee.
One of the things I find most interesting about the American Civil War is the question of what the common soldier knew. It’s fairly simple to look back in hindsight and describe the activities of the various armies as the war played out. This army, the Army of the Cumberland, was to eventually drive on to Atlanta and gain distinction as the army that drove the notion of total warfare to the states of Georgia and South Carolina.
But what did the boys know?
The movement was accomplished by rail. Now before you get any ideas about the romantic ideals of a long train trip…there would have been no room service, no working toilets, no hot food, no cocktail hour, no women, and absolutely not plush featherbeds. It would have been steamy hot and humid, and the notion of a twenty-four hour dry cleaner for your uniform was still two wars away. Of course that really didn’t matter much…soap was quite the commodity in the summer of 1863, and given the choice between a pint of lousy whiskey and a bar of soap…let’s just say our boys were some jovial stinkers.
They would have known they were going west. They would also have known Vicksburg had fallen. They would have known Lee was in full retreat in the east. Our boys would have known that Grant was the boss out west. Once landed in Tennessee, they would have heard about battles called Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Vicksburg. They would have regaled their new allies with stories of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and Kessler’s Cross Lanes. They would have bonded in their bravery and sense of duty.
And our boys would have noticed something about the Army of the Cumberland that was lacking in the Army of the Potomac. Confidence. These boys had lost the Battle of Chickamauga, and yet they felt a sense of confidence? They had a swagger about themselves that the armies of the east lacked. They believed in their commanders, and they believed in themselves.
The 7th fit right in.
By the fall of 1863, the Army of the Cumberland was positioned on the border of Tennessee and Georgia. The boys knew a push was coming, and this time they felt that sense of aggression that comes with confidence. They knew they were going to win. No longer were they fighting with one foot in the bucket as they had at Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, and 2nd Bull Run. They were now going to fight free and easy, and as they cleaned their weapons in November of that year, they prepared to do their duty once again along the base of Lookout Mountain.
What did the boys know?
They knew the war they had signed up for two years earlier was gone. They believed the end was in sight. They knew they were on the greatest adventures of their lives. And they knew that from the top of Lookout Mountain they could see a vast expanse of land known as the State of Georgia.