Civil War: November 1863, Revenge for Chickamauga

The Battle for Missionary Ridge
The Battle for Missionary Ridge

By Sandy Vasko

When November of 1863 came around, the Union was still reeling from the losses at Chickamauga. When the citizens of Will County heard the final results, it hit them like a mountain.

Almost everyone knew someone in the 100th Illinois who had been killed or wounded. Dr. Bowen, from Wilmington, and Elder Crews, from Joliet left to look after the wounded Will County boys.

George Woodruff describes their trip in his Fifteen Years Ago: “They did not go as idlers or lookers-on. On arriving at Stephenson, and finding no conveyance, they cut them each a good stick, and charged over the mountain on foot, a distance of 40 miles. On arriving at the camp of the 100th, they repaired to the hospital, took off their coats, and went to work, dressing the wounded, and doing everything in their power to help the boys who were suffering in our behalf.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Bowen’s son, Capt. Rodney Bowen, was less than 40 miles away at the front lines in Lookout Valley with the remainder of the 100th. He kept a diary and proved himself quite a writer. The following come directly from that diary.

“Nov. 5th. Provisions are beginning to arrive freely, and the pressure is letting up. The enemy still hold Lookout, but there are indications of an attack upon the extreme right by Grant’s and Hooker’s forces.

“Nov. 11th (We) Have been back in town some days from the front, in our old quarters. The paymaster is here. Boats are running regularly between Kelly’s Ferry (seven miles below) and Bridgeport, and rations are now coming in freely. Brisk firing is going on between Moccasin Point and Lookout.”

At this point, Capt. Bowen skips to Nov. 23rd. The next entry was done much later for reasons that will become obvious later when he wrote the following:

“On the morning of the 23rd an unusual movement being observed in the rebel camps, orders were given for a division of the 4th corps to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Orchard Knob.

Wood formed his men on the slope outside the fortifications, and advanced rapidly.

“His reconnaissance was quickly turned into a storming party, and we carry the Knob, and the works about it at the point of the bayonet. This success rendered the enemy’s interior line of works untenable. A strong and important position was secured, and a regiment of rebels and its colors were captured.

“Nov. 25th The morning was clear and cold. Gen. Wagner came round with the cheering intelligence that Hooker had taken Lookout. As our boys were hardly ready to credit the good news, Wagner says: “You miserable Suckers, don’t you think the Yanks can fight as well as you?

“About 3 p.m. there is a signal of six guns. Before the echoes have died away in the surrounding hills, our corps advance. Mission Ridge is an elevated ridge, some 600 or 800 ft. high, with a wooded valley between us and the enemy’s entrenchments at the base of the ridge. The ridge itself is crowned with formidable works, bristling with from 50 to 60 cannon, and behind the breastworks are the veteran regiments or the rebel army.

“As soon as our advance commenced, the rebels opened on us a terrific fire. Had it been a veritable volcano, a burning mountain, it could hardly have surpassed the grandeur of the terribleness of the display it now made. But the advance of our brave boys was hardly checked. On they go, driving the rebels from their rifle-pits at the foot of the mountain.

“This was the point to which they had been ordered, the principal object of the movement being to make a diversion in favor of Sherman, who was assaulting another portion of the enemy’s lines. But the brave men of the army of the Cumberland forgot to stop. They were just mad enough to disappoint the expectations of Mr. Bragg and to go on up the mountain’s side, through the storm of fire, and gaining point after point, pressed upward, hardly stopping to rest, or even to shoot.

“From the foot of the ridge to the top, it was at least three-fourths of a mile, and very steep. Our men fell back once for a little while under the deadly fire, but soon go on again and stopped but twice to take a little breath in making the ascent, moving rather deliberately until they got within about 100 yards of the enemy, when they rushed forward with a yell, and the cry of “Revenge for Chickamauga!” and capturing everything in the rebel works; the rebels not having time to spike the guns, which were immediately turned upon them.

“Chickamauga was avenged, and the anxious watchers below saw the stars and stripes floating over the rebel works.”

What Capt. Bowen does not write is the fact that he himself was severely wounded in the flesh of the leg during that gallant assault on Missionary Ridge and those words were written from a hospital bed.

Earlier in the month, on Nov. 19th to be exact, Abraham Lincoln spent two minutes addressing a crowd in Pennsylvania. On Nov. 11th, Veterans Day, it would be good to remember a few of those words:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


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