Battle of Chickamauga II – General Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to Breakfast

Previous Post: Chickamauga I: Muskets and Medicine

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In her memoir, Little Doctor on the Black Horse, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton does not describe the Battle of Chickamauga, because her grandfather David Benedict did not mention the battle in any of the letters he wrote to his wife. Instead, as if it were an afterthought, she added a few pages about the battle at the end of the memoir. In the right order, this, and my previous post, Battle of Chickamauga I – Muskets and Medicine, should be read after Little Doctor on the Black Horse: Post #4 – A Prisoner of War on this website.

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Battle of Chickamauga – Part II

by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton

At sunrise on Monday, two Confederate generals, Forrest [1] and Cheatham, [2] rode into camp, tied their horses and remarked casually that they had come to breakfast. Gen. Cheatham took a cup of coffee and spoke of the pleasure he took in a cup of “choice Ric,” but Forrest (evidently somewhat of a fire-eater), refused the unaccustomed luxury. “not,” he said, “that I do not like coffee and the like, but because we have been deprived of them by the iron heel of a tyrannical government and a damnable blockade. I scorn to indulge until I can do so in an established Confederacy, whose independence has been won by the strong arm of Southern chivalry!”

Gen. Cheatham laughed dryly and passed his cup of more coffee. Later he spoke sadly of the battle, and of the stamina of the Yankee soldiers. “They fought well, gentlemen. All the glory we can claim is that we hold the field; and against such a foe it is a glory. But dearly bought! Our loss is frightful – equal to yours. A fearful cost of life, fearful! The dead looked as if mowed down in swaths!” It was to be many months before the doctors learned the full story of the battle, on whose fringes they had labored so desperately, and heard how their beloved Gen. George Thomas had earned the title: “Rock of Chickamauga.” [3]

Next Post: Chickamauga III: A Cup and a Spoon.

 

Editor’s Notes

 

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest

[1] So my great-great-grandfather David Benedict broke bread (more likely hardtack) with Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. At least that seems most likely. In Captive of War [3], Solon Hyde does not mention Doctor Benedict being of the breakfast party, but I see no reason why he would not have been, being an officer. General Forrest, of course, is renowned (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for his tactical and strategic genius during the Civil War. According to Ulysses S. Grant, he was “that devil Forrest.” After the war, General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis expressed regret that they did not use his talents fully. In Ken Burns documentary about the American Civil War, the late historian Shelby Foote giggled when discussing some of Forrest’s more daring exploits. However, the general’s reputation today is tarnished by his role in the massacre of black Union troops at Fort Pillow and his membership in the Klu Klux Klan after the war. There is no question what Solon Hyde thought of him. His last words about General Forrest in Captive of War were: “. . . as he rode away, he left on our minds the impression of a man without heart or soul.” Check out the Nathan Bedford Forrest article in Wikipedia for details about his life and Civil War career,

Benjamin Franklin Cheatham

Benjamin Franklin Cheatham

[2] In contrast to his low opinion of General Forrest, Solon Hyde held Major General Cheatham in high regard. Commenting on the general’s remarks about the battle while at breakfast, Solon wrote: “It seemed to touch him as he dwelt upon the carnage, and recalled the battle scenes with an emotion that forced us to acknowledge him a brave man, honest in his conviction of the justness of the cause for which he fought.” Although General Cheatham may have been a better man than General Forrest in Solon’s eyes, history does not treat him as kindly. Near the end of the war, in November of 1864, he was sharply criticized for allowing a Union force to slip by his corps, leading to the disastrous Confederate defeat at the Battle of Franklin the following day. For more about him, see the Wikipedia article, Benjamin F. Cheatham.

A Captive of War[3] Harriott’s account of Generals Forrest and Cheatham having breakfast with Union medical officers the day after the Battle of Chickamauga come from Solon Hyde’s book Captive of War, a memoir of the Civil War experiences of Solon Hyde of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In addition to his descriptions of the Battle of Chickamauga (which includes how Doctor Benedict and he stayed behind with the wounded as the other medical personnel “skedaddled”), Solon tells of his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war, to include his time at Andersonville. After the war, he assisted Clara Barton in her work to identify the dead at that notorious prison camp. The book was published in 1900 by McClure, Phillips & Company. That version is now available online at Google Books. In 1996, Solon’s great-grandson Neil Thompson republished the book. It is available on Amazon. As an account of what Union prisoners of war experienced during the Civil War, this book cannot be beat. I highly recommend it.

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harriott-wickham-1915-20-2About the Author: Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton   (1890-1981) was born in Norwalk, Ohio to Frank and Agnes Wickham. Her father was the youngest of twelve children of Frederick and Lucy Wickham, early settlers of the Firelands, and her mother was the great-great granddaughter of Platt and Sarah Benedict, who founded the city of Norwalk. Educated at Norwalk High School and Wooster College, she became a teacher. She marched as a suffragette and worked for the Labor Department during World War I. After the war, she went west to teach school, and became one of the last homesteaders, proving up a property near Wheatland, Wyoming. She married Angus Barton in 1924 and they raised four children on the homestead through the Dust Bowl and World War II. In the late 1940s, she and her Angus moved to Ohio, where they spent the rest of their lives. During the 1950s and ‘60s, she wrote “Little Doctor on the Black Horse,” poetry, and short stories, some which were published in various journals and magazines.

 Next Post: Chickamauga III: A Cup and a Spoon.

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3 Responses

  1. Glad you stopped by my blog which led to return visit here. I follow you now. As retired American history teacher your blog is heaven sent.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Carl, and for following my post. I liked your recent “Reflections of an Old Man” post on your blog. Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet — “A Wisp of Me” is a nice complement to “I Could Not Stop for Death.” I look forward to reading more.

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  3. How fascinating. My maiden name is Barton.

    Liked by 1 person

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