Streetwise Professor

May 27, 2024

Wounded in the Georgia Woods, 160 Years Ago Today

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 9:25 am

Today is Memorial Day. It is also the 160th anniversary of the grievous wounding of my maternal great-grandmother’s uncle, Eli Hatfield. Hatfield’s 46th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry was advancing as part of the 4th Division, XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee outside Dallas, Georgia when attacked by dismounted Confederate cavalry. (On this day the 46th was attached to the third brigade of that division, though it was part of the second brigade). Fighting without earthworks* the 46th suffered 1 killed and 10 wounded, including Eli.

The main Battle of Dallas occurred the next day. The 46th suffered heavier casualties repelling the assault of Bate’s division, including regimental commander Henry Giesy.

Eli’s wound was a bad one–a minie ball to the left arm just below the shoulder joint. Too close to the torso for amputation, the 46th’s surgeon resected the shattered bone, leaving Eli’s arm dangling at his side for the remainder of his life. (My great-grandmother said he was “Uncle Eli with the dead arm.”)

The survival rate from this surgery was very low, about 10 percent. In contrast, the survival rate from amputation was around 75 percent.

This wound was the culmination of a series of misfortunes. Eli did not have a good war. He was captured at Shiloh (where the 46th held the very right flank of the Federal army–not quite the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, but their stand was crucial). He spent several months in Cahaba (Alabama) Prison, which was not quite Andersonville but wasn’t Club Reb either. Paroled and exchanged, he returned home to Ohio but did not return to his unit, claiming that his imprisonment had rendered him unfit for service. Despite notes from his doctor (seriously–they are in his service file) the army disagreed, and Eli reported to the 46th in time to participate in the assault on Tunnel Hill at the Battle of Chattanooga. He survived the grueling (but unnecessary) march through appalling weather of the XV Corps to relieve Burnside at Knoxville, and a winter in camp at Chattanooga. He fought with the 46th at Resaca and during other skirmishes in the Atlanta Campaign, before his rendezvous with a bullet at Dallas 160 years ago today.

Eli returned to Ohio after a period of convalescence in Nashville. (Just imagine the agony of the jolting wagon or ambulance ride over rough Georgia roads to the Western and Atlantic Railway, and the subsequent train rides north over rickety rails to Nashville, and then home). He lived a long and productive life. He fathered four children (one born in November, 1865, a mere 18 months after his wounding), and died in 1899.

The 1880 Census lists his occupation as “engineer.” Of what I am trying to figure out. On a railroad? For a coal mine (one of his brothers and two of his nephews worked in the mines)? Given his rural upbringing, and the fact that virtually all his family were farmers or laborers, his profession is something of a surprise, and I am curious to learn how that came about.

He is buried in a small cemetery just east of Columbus:

Eli’s brother John also served in the 46th. John’s military records state that he was 18 when he enlisted. However, he was only 16. He enlisted a month after Eli, which combined with lying about his age suggests some parental resistance to his serving.

Unlike his brother John survived 4 years of war without a scratch, and apparently without serious illness: he is recorded as present every month for these four years–his service file is quite boring compared to Eli’s. Quite remarkable considering that his service included Shiloh, the Siege of Vicksburg (where disease was as deadly as bullets), the Second Battle of Jackson, Chattanooga, Resaca, Dallas, Noonday Creek, the assault on Kennesaw Mountain, the Battle of Atlanta (22 July), Ezra Church, Griswoldsville, the March to the Sea, the March Through the Carolinas, and Bentonville, as well as nearly continuous skirmishing during the Atlanta Campaign.

After muster out, life in Ohio was apparently unappealing to John, so he settled on a farm in Valley Falls, KS, where he died in 1915. He also fathered four children. His obituary in the Valley Falls New Era read:

Comrade Hatfield was well known in this community, took an active interest in church and G. A. R. Circles, liked to hear the bugle call and to the last enjoyed the camp fire stories, at all their gatherings and has a large circle of relatives and friends who will morn his departure. The G. A. R. Post took charge of the services at the grave.

Quoted in Find a Grave.

An old soldier who faded away, and who like many others considered his military service the high point of his life.** Eli’s feelings are unrecorded, or at least I have not found any record. Objectively it was the low point. But he survived and carried on with life.

Theirs are just two Civil War stories. I am glad to know them, and to be able to tell them.

*The report of the commander of the 46th records that the regiment dug shallow entrenchments after repelling this Confederate assault.

**A paternal ancestor corresponded nostalgically with comrades from the Bavarian Army (he was from the Palatinate, which was part of Bavaria at the time) long after he had emigrated to Chicago.

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