Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana


Sherman send an order to Hascall on the 19th of July saying, "Cox is ordered to move on the Atlanta Road at once…Move your command directly in the rear of General Cox’s column, keeping in close support of him in advance of his wagons." We don’t know if the 91st participated in bending rails that day – they most likely helped make sure the town was secured as they moved through toward Atlanta. According to bronze roadside Georgia Historical Markers, Hascall’s 2nd Division made a "right turn" on North Decatur Road to head directly toward Atlanta. Sherman’s orders on the 19th for Schofield make it clear that he travel "by the road leading from Doctor Powell’s to Atlanta." That can only be interpreted as the North Decatur Road. The nature of the woods and hills of the area demand most of the troops travel on a roadway. Another field order of the day says all ammunition wagons and ambulances (wagons) will be left behind to the north of Decatur until the result is determined. From Schofield’s biography, states that his Corps was striking south and west on the 19th with Hascall’s Division (and the 91st) in the advance. Some two miles out of town he encountered a heavy force of Confederate cavalry who could do little to hinder the division’s progress. And that by mid afternoon Hascall’s division was tramping into Decatur. A disability report on Pvt. William Williams states he was wounded on the 19th. However there was no mention in his diary of 91st wounded on that day and fighting was sparse. He did mention seeing wounded the next day. Also, Confederate cavalry generally used breach-loading carbines that did not shoot Minie ball bullets of the type that wounded Pvt. Williams.

Hascall’s division camped that night closer to Atlanta, at the juncture of Pea Vine Creek and Clifton Road (per bronze markers on the road), about 5 miles from Atlanta as the crow flies. Clifton Road today is a rather long road that goes through the Emory University campus and the Centers for Disease Control before going south through the present Druid Hills and then straight line south all the way to what is Flat Shoals Parkway due east of the center of Atlanta. HE also wrote that he was a mile and a half from Cheatham’s entrenchments with a high ridge and a hollow between. It is likely that the 91st had caught up with their main body of their division by then. Gen. Cox wrote that on the night of the 19th Schofield was over the south fork of Peachtree, and at the Peyton plantations. And also that the Pea Vine is parallel to Cheatham’s entrenchments. The 91st Indiana encampment there is just a few hundred yards south of North Decatur Road on Pea Vine Creek and near the southern boundary of Emory University’s campus. This is a very lovely, peaceful, hilly, wooded area. Pea Vine Creek leaves this area and goes north along the western boundary of the campus. This is an area called Druid Hills. There are many vistas of the tall skyscrapers of Atlanta. The present Druid Hills Golf Course is less than a half mile south of it. The homes are on large acreage. To the southeast about a mile is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. On July 19, 1864, just one mile to the west of their encampment, is entrenched the middle of Gen. Cheatham’s line of Hood’s old Corps. A message is sent to Washington DC that the left of the force "swung around destroying the Augusta Railroad from near Stone Mountain to Decatur." One more indication that there was operations further east where Pvt. Holder indicates the 91st has gone "8 miles south-east" on the 18th. We now see he may have shown us they went nearly all the way to Stone Mountain on the 18th to intercept the railroad track and tear it up over a 3 to 5 mile stretch leading back to Decatur. Then heading west, covering the distance back to Decatur, and on even further west to camp. So the detailed data doesn’t conflict with Holder but rather confirms his observations. The summary of 91st battles indicates, "On the 19th the 91st was engaged at Decatur…the whole line skirmishing heavily." Then finally, just before midnight, Sherman tells Cox, "a general movement of the army on Atlanta is ordered at 5 AM tomorrow (20th)".

Dawn of Wednesday the 20th of July 1864, the day that Pvt. William Williams’s life changed unalterably, the outlook was for a fiercely hot Atlanta day. Four hours earlier Sherman has telegraphed Thomas saying the Augusta railroad line is torn up and a locomotive has blown up and encumbered the track on the Macon line. He says, "now is the time to strike in force…. We only must determine where are the artificial defenses of the enemy." Castell says neither of the armies can see each other at this point and that the battlefield is essentially covered in pine forests and dense underbrush. The Battle of Peachtree Creek is about to begin. A Georgia Historical Marker in bronze stands in 2001 at Briarcliff Road and University Drive which silently speaks of the surrounding events of July 20th, "…a wide gap (developed) between Peachtree Rd. (the left of Thomas’ forces) and Schofield’s 23rd Army Corps, posted at the intersection of North Decatur and Briarcliff roads. To fill this gap Stanley’s and Woods 4th Army Corps divisions were moved southeast from Buckhead. Stanley’s in the valley west of this marker (currently the Georgia Mental Health Institute) and Schofield’s 23rd Army Corps prolonged Stanley’s line southward. All seems in readiness for what everyone knows will come-- a rebel charge. Gen. Hood hears at 10 AM that Sherman’s left wing including McPherson’s Corps and some of Schofield’s 23rd Corps is marching slowly and with large numbers from Decatur to Atlanta. The speed is only one mile every three hours. Logan’s Corps, followed by Dodge’s going west on the Decatur Road. Schofield’s (with the 91st Indiana) on the North Decatur Road. A telegraph of July 20 9:30 AM states, "The Twenty-third Corps is moving on the Atlanta road, about a mile and a half to the right of the road the Fifteenth Corps is now on (main road parallel with and along the railroad). Our advance is not quite four miles from Atlanta and has developed the enemy’s works in our front." Major JA Campbell signed it.

McPherson moving west on the parallel road to the south. They are moving essentially unopposed. Cheatham slides to his right one mile south to protect the Decatur Road as well as the North Decatur Road (on which is the 91st Indiana). Hood still expects the rebel attack to start at 11 AM. But Cheatham moves slowly and not one mile but two miles to his right. Hardee sees the problem but can’t notify Hood who is moving at the time. So Hardee starts moving his troops the two miles also and when Hood finds out does nothing. Hardee is one of the best commanders in the rebel army but he has been incensed at being passed over for Johnston’s replacement. He takes until nearly 3 PM to make a one-mile shift and stops. Meanwhile McPherson’s cavalry has moved to within 2-1/2 miles from Atlanta via the Decatur Road by 1 PM and fired three shells from a 20-pound parrot gun into the city.

Cheatham’s line doesn’t reach as far down as the Decatur Road and Wheeler only has 3,500 cavalry versus McPherson’s 25,000 infantry. But McPherson decides to take the time to deploy troops from above Decatur Road where they join Schofield’s deployment of Blair with Logan to Blair’s right and Hascall (with the 91st Indiana at about ½ mile above Decatur Road) to Logan’s right and Cox to Hascall’s right. As evening approaches McPherson decides to not advance more. At 4 PM the rebel attack begins on the far left and is staged to roll to the right. The main battle is just 2 or 3 miles to the north of North Decatur Road where Sherman is but he cannot hear it because of the hills and trees. Anyway, Thomas is taking the brunt of the rebel attack and is holding. About that time, Sherman orders Thomas to attack forward to Atlanta sweeping everything before him.

At midnight Sherman gets news from Thomas marked 6:15PM saying repulsed heavy attack with enemy’s losses severe. Sherman now sees the main rebel thrust is north and McPherson should have done better in outflanking from the east. In Schofield’s deployment Cox is to the right of Hascall (and the 91st) and Logan’s XV Corps is abreast of Schofield and to his left. Dodge is behind near Decatur. The summary of regimental action says, "On the 20th, the enemy made a sudden assault, resulting in the battle of Peachtree Creek, in which the regiment was engaged." This is somewhat of a confirmation of Holder’s saying they got within 4 miles of Atlanta. Sherman wires Washington DC at 9 PM saying in part, "we have pressed the enemy back to where our rifle-shot can reach the town…Thomas is on my right, Schofield in the center and McPherson on the left…the enemy still clings to his entrenchments…our line extends from a point on the railroad 2-1/2 miles east of Atlanta ...and we have torn up 5 miles of the track.".

Separately on the 20th, Sherman at 6 PM telegraphs, "General Schofield is near the distillery (believe this to be near the intersection of Ponce de Leon and Briarcliff Ave. based on 1864 maps indicating the distillery) where the enemy is fortifying…the enemy attempted to sally against Cox but were quickly repulsed. I saw the skirmishers of the other division of Schofield’s (very probably Hascall’s) make a dash at a line of rifle-pits, carrying it and capturing about 100 prisoners….all the prisoners captured by Schofield are Hoods corps (Cheatham in this battle)….all the ground I’ve seen is densely wooded but the roads are good." This all is fascinating. First, the distillery (based on 1864 map) is in front of Schofield but is about 2 miles from Atlanta. On Schofield’s left McPherson has gotten within 2-1/2 miles early in the day so this is credible. But what skirmishers in Hascall’s 2nd division rushed the rifle-pits and captured 100 prisoners? We turn to the official report for that day. The official report of the 91st Indiana Volunteers by Col. Butterfield states, "On the 20th, as the (First) brigade was advancing on the Atlanta and Decatur road, Companies A and B were sent out as skirmishers under command of Captain Clark of Company B, and assisted in driving the enemy, with a loss of 3 men wounded (one of which was Pvt. Williams). The companies captured during the afternoon from 15 to 20 prisoners." Within the 91st Indiana Volunteer Regiment it is recorded: Henry Abe died a week later of wounds, Elihu Wilson of Company B died on the 21st of wounds at Atlanta), and William Carter (Co. C) died a month later at Marietta.

General Sherman’s memoirs also say of the 20th: " I was with Gen. Schofield near the center and soon after noon heard heavy firing in front of Thomas’s right, which lasted an hour or so and then ceased. I soon learned the enemy made a furious sally (mostly)…on Hooker’s Corps…the troops crossed Peachtree Creek and were resting … enemy came pouring out of their trenches down upon them." The sally was repulsed with many Confederate losses. Further he stated of that day, "We then advanced our lines in compact order, close up to the finished entrenchments…from various parts of our lines we could see the houses inside of Atlanta, though between us were the strong parapets with ditches and chevaux de frise, and abatis…". He stated that Schofield was on the right of McPherson and Dodge between was "crowded out." Also that he (Sherman) personally was on horseback at the front of Schofield’s line which had advanced in front of the Howard House to some open ground where he could plainly see the whole rebel line of parapets and saw the men dragging trees and saplings from the intervening valley, by the distillery, to be used for abatis. He could see the rebel line strongly manned. Schofield was "dressing forward his lines at the front. Sherman and McPherson held their last meeting that day and McPherson soon lay dead from a rebel bullet.

General Schofield’s biography doesn’t say much of the day. Mostly that they moved forward a mile or so against stubborn resistance. Then Hood saw a chance and sent troops pouring into a gap between Thomas and Schofield about noon. Artillery with canister shot drove them back. General Thomas telegraphed Gen. Sherman on midnight of the 20th that, "…the enemy’s line of battle confronts my troops, with his left at Turner’s Ferry and his right resting on what I take to be Pea Vine Creek." Sherman replies, "…General Schofield is near the distillery, where the enemy is fortifying….Gen. McPherson is on the railroad about 2-1/2 miles out.." and further, "All the prisoners captured by Schofield are of Hood’s corps although each commander says he has to fight two corps. All the ground is densely wooded but the roads are good."

So that Wednesday, the 20th, was relatively quiet for the 23rd Corps and for the 91st Indiana Regiment (except for apparently furious bloody skirmishes at the front by Companies A and B) compared to Gen. Thomas’ lot. But there had been skirmishes and fighting. They were engaged. Cheatham’s corps was directly in front of them. And Private William Williams of 23rd Corps, 2nd Division, 91st Indiana Regiment, Company A has been shot through the arm by a rebel rifle bullet. The conditions indicate they were able to take care of the wounded. They had the upper hand over the enemy. So it was likely William was taken to a field hospital by wagon with the other wounded. Pvt. Holder writes in his diary for July 20th, "marched within 4 miles of Atlanta (would be about Briarcliff Road), was on skirmish line, several men was killed, we was in a close place, and saw wounded of the 91st." This is pretty clear even though brief. The meaning of "close place" possibly means packed into a swail or valley or it could mean close to the enemy. Probably both are true.

It appears from the records indicated in bold above that, on the 20th of July, Companies A and B of the 91st Indiana Volunteer Regiment, with Pvt. Williams and Pvt. Holder, are part of a group sent out as skirmishers to engage Gen. Cheatham’s Confederate works near the distillery. Sherman saw them "make a dash at a line of rifle-pits, carrying it and capturing about 100 prisoners." We know that Companies A and B of the 91st Indiana accounted for 15-20 Confederate prisoners of Cheatham’s (formerly Hood’s) Corps. This is the critical day of the critical battle of the critical city of the critical war to save the Union, and Pvt. William Williams is dashing at the rebel works before Atlanta, taking the works and taking prisoners. This is the stuff of which heroes are made and the stuff of which legends are made. But he can’t enjoy the victory—he is badly wounded.

Pvt. William Williams’s whole world now collapses onto one thing --his arm. And what will happen to it. Will he lose it? It is a terrible wound for an arm wound. And would it kill him? The dangers of infections, gangrene or bleeding to death were very high. There was probably some kind of collection of the wounded into an area near the North Decatur Road to wait for the ambulance wagons in the rear to be brought up for them. The distance from the holding area and the return trip to the 23rd Corps Powell House hospital is about 5-6 miles round trip. It is likely Pvt. Williams was treated with tourniquets to retard bleeding and maybe pain in the field but he didn’t get to the hospital until the main action was over and the transportation on the congested roadway would allow it—meaning sometime that evening. Wounded only got some sympathy and kindness for hours or days. Medical help was so archaic. Partly because of the ignorance of the day. Germs and bacteria were unknown. Pus was considered a blessing. Surgeon’s instruments were not even rinsed in most cases. Many limbs were likely removed there that night as Pvt. Williams tried to rest and calm his nerves. And Pvt. Williams could probably hear the terrible sounds involved. But at least he was safe from enemy fire. What happened to him now depended on his own body’s resources. He could readily die from infections and from catching diseases from sick men in the hospital. They did no isolation and no sterilization. Not invented yet.

Somewhere we have read he was taken later to a major Union hospital in Knoxville. He spent a long time convalescing in a hospital in Evansville and was discharged on the 15th of March 1865 at Evansville by Col. Simonson. He listed that his address is Evansville. An Army Map commissioned by Gen. Sherman in 1865 shows there was a military hospital on the west end of the Evansville area about 1/3rd the way from city center to W. Franklin (William’s home). This put the hospital about 7 miles from home. One casualty sheet says he suffered from a "ball flesh wound to the left arm". Another states the wound entry was at the rear of the arm about midway between elbow and wrist. Another says he was "incapable of duties because of contraction of extensor muscles of the left hand and all fingers press on the palm….gunshot fracture of the ulna received in battle near Atlanta Georgia about 19 July 1864….he is unfit for duty due to the degree of his disability- one hand." There are many questions that will remain unanswered. Did the shooter take aim at him and fire? Or was it a stray bullet? We will never know. But it is likely that it was and infantryman of Gen. Cheatham’s Corps that he took over from Gen. Hood, who replaced Johnston just one day before Pvt. Williams was shot. Many soldiers had to plead with the surgeons to not amputate their limbs. Gen. Sherman writes of a col. Reynolds shot in the leg near where Pvt. Williams was shot. He was of Irish birth and stated that the leg was very valuable being "imported". The surgeons got a laugh and figured he had the spunk to survive the wound. He retained his leg. William Williams’s story was never recorded. Likely there were no jokes told. But he certainly pleaded a case based on being a farmer. At that point he had no way of knowing his hand would clam up as it did. His arm was likely still useful to some degree but not well enough to hold a gun.

The War of the Rebellion’s toll in humanity was crushing to the country. Approximately 359,000 Federal soldiers and 258,000 Confederate soldiers lost their lives. More by the illnesses than wounds but the effect is the same. And the toll on the physically and mentally disabled adds to that. William Williams was not killed in the war but he lived for only five years after the war. Friends said he was never the same and his early death was felt to be because of the war.

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Copyright © 2001 Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana