Civil War Veteran Jacob Miller was shot in the forehead on Sept.19th 1863 at Brock Field at Chickamauga. He lived with an open bullet wound for many years, with the last pieces of lead dropping out 31 years after he was first shot; ca. 1911
Jacob Miller’s account taken from the Daily News Joliet Ill. Wed. June 14, 1911:
Braidwood is sending to the state G.A.R. encampment today one of the most remarkable hero survivors of the Civil War. His name is Jacob Miller and since Sept. 19, 1863, he has lived with an open bullet wound in his forehead. For a number of years the bullet remained in his head but piece by piece it fell out till now. It is thought none of it remains in the wound. During the time it was in the head it at times would produce a stupor, which sometimes would last two weeks, it being usually when he caught cold and produced more of a pressure on the brain. At other times delirium would seize him and he would imagine himself again on picket duty and would tramp back and forth on his beat, a stick on his shoulder for a musket, a pitiful object of the sacrifice for freedom. As these pieces of lead gradually loosened and fell out he regained his usual health and is now at the age of 78 years, one of the most, if not the most, remarkable survivor of the Civil war.
The harrowing experience undergone by Mr. Miller is so vividly felt by him even at this late day that it is seldom he can be persuaded to talk of it.
But it is my privilege to record from his own hand writing written for his family the story of his miraculous escape from death at that memorable time under his signature.
Jacob Miller, formerly a private in company K 9th Indiana Vol. Inf. Was wounded in the head near Brock Field at the battle of Chickamagua, Georgia on the morning of Sept. 19, 1863. I was left for dead when my company when my company fell back from that position. When I came to my senses some time after I found I was in the rear of the confederate line. So not to become a prisoner I made up my mind to make an effort to get around their line and back on my own side. I got up with the help of my gun as a staff, then went back some distance, then started parallel with the line of battle. I suppose I was so covered with blood that those that I met, did not notice that I was a Yank, ( at least our Major, my former captain did not recognize me when I met him after passing to our own side).
At last I got to the end of the confederate line and went to our own side while a brigade of confederates came up to their line behind me. There were none of the Union forces found on that part of the field when I passed along. I struck an old by-road and followed it the best I could, as by this time my head was swelled so bad it shut my eyes and I could see to get along only by raising the lid of my right eye and look ahead then go on till I ran afoul of something, then would look again and so on till I came to the Lafayette Pike near the Kelly house and started towards the field Hospital at the springs. I at length got so badly exhausted I had to lie down by the side of the road. At last some bearers came along and put me on their stretcher and carried me to the hospital and laid me on the ground in a tent. A hospital nurse came and put a wet bandage over my wound and around my head and gave me a canteen of water. I don’t know what time of day they examined my wound and decided to put me on the operating table till after dark some time. The surgeons examined my wound and decided it was best not to operate on me and give me more pain as they said I couldn’t live very long, so the nurse took me back into the tent. I slept some during the night . The next morning (Sunday), the doctors came around to make a list of the wounded and of their company and regiments and said to send all the wounded to Chattanooga that the ambulances would carry and told me I was wounded too bad to be moved, and if the army fell back those that were left there could afterwards be exchanged.
As stated before I made up my mind as long as I could drag one foot after another I would not allow myself to be taken prisoner. I got a nurse to fill my canteen with water so I could make an effort in getting near safety as possible. I got out of the tent without being noticed and got behind some wagons that stood near the road till I was safely away (having to open my eye with my finger to take my bearings on the road) I went away from the boom of cannon and the rattle of musketry. I worked my way along the road as best I could. At one time I got off to the side of the road and bumped my head against a low hanging limb. The shock toppled me over, I got up and took my bearings again and went on as long as I could drag a foot then lay down beside the road, to see if I could not rest so I could move. I hadn’t lain long till the ambulance train began to pass, the drivers as they passed me asked me if I was still alive, then passing on. At last one of the drivers asked if I was alive and said he would take me in, as one of his men had died back awes, and he had taken him out. Then it was all a blank to me, (Monday the 21st I came to myself and found I was in a long building in Chattanooga Tenn., lying with hundreds of other wounded on the floor almost as thick as hogs in a stock car. Some were talking , some were groaning. I raised myself to a sitting position got my canteen and wet my head. While doing it I heard a couple of soldiers who were from my company. They could not believe it was me as they said I was left for dead on the field at the left of Brock Cabin. They came over to where I was and we visited together till then came an order for all the wounded that could walk to start across the river on a pontoon bridge to a hospital, to be treated ready to be taken to Nashville. I told the boys if they could lead me, I could walk that distance. I started but owing to our army retreating the night before, and was then in and around the city wagon trains. Troops and artillery were crossing the river on the single pontoon bridge. We could not get across until almost sundown. When we arrived across and up on the bank we luckily ran across our company teamster, who we stopped with that night He got us something to eat After we ate some (the first I had tasted before daylight Saturday morning the 19th), we lay down on a pile of blankets, each fixed under the wagon and rested pretty well as the teamsters stayed awake till nearly morning to keep our wounds moist with cool water from a nearby spring.
Tuesday morning the 22nd we awoke to the crackling of the camp fire that a comrade built to get us a cup of coffee and a bite to eat of hard tack and fat meat. While eating, an orderly rode up and asked if we were wounded. If so we were to go back along the road to get our wounds dressed, so we bid the teamsters good-bye and went to get our wounds attended to. We had to wait till near noon before we were attended to. That was the first time I had my wound washed and dressed by a surgeon. After we were fixed up we drew a few crackers, some sugar coffee, salt and a cake of soap and were ordered to get into an army wagon with four army mules, ( God Bless the army mule, the soldiers friend.) We got in and started to go over Raccoon or Sand Mountain to Bridgeport, Ala. To take the train to Nashville, Tenn. After riding in the wagon awhile I found the jolting hurt my head so badly I could not stand it so had to get out. My comrades got out with me and we went on foot. I was told it was 60 miles that route to Bridgport, at least it took us four days to get there. Wednesday morning when I woke up I found I could open my right eye and see to get around. We arrived at Bridgeport the fourth day out from Chattanooga at noon, just as a train of box cars were ready to pull out. I got in a car and lay down. I had gained my point so far–and how. As the soldiers term it with lots of sand, but the sand had run out with me for the time being.
The next thing I remember I was stripped and in a bath tub of warm water in a hospital at Nashville. I do not know what date it was; in fact I didn’t pay much attention to the dates from the Friday at noon when I got in the box car at Bridgeport to start to Nashville.
After, some length of time I was transferred to Louisville , Ky. From there to New Albany, Ind.. In all the hospitals I was in I begged the surgeons to operate on my head but they all refused.
I suffered for nine months then I got a furlough home to Logansport and got Drs. Fitch and Colman to operate on my wound. They took out the musket ball. After the operation a few days, I returned to the hospital at Madison and stayed there till the expiration of my enlistment, Sept. 17, 1864. Seventeen years after I was wounded a buck shot dropped out of my wound and thirty one years after two pieces of lead came out.
Some ask how it is I can describe so minutely my getting wounded and getting off the battle field after so many years. My answer is I have an everyday reminder of it in my wound and constant pain in the head, never free of it while not asleep. The whole scene is imprinted on my brain as with a steel engraving.
I haven’t written this to complain of any one being in fault for my misfortune and suffering all these years, the government is good to me and gives me $40.00 per month pension.
At the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, Union and Confederate veterans shake hands; ca. 1913
The 1913 Gettysburg reunion was a Gettysburg Battlefield encampment of American Civil War veterans for the Battle of Gettysburg’s 50th anniversary. The June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans (~8,750 Confederate) was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and “never before in the world’s history [had] so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions” (Chief Surgeon). All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended (cf. Nevada).Despite concerns “that there might be unpleasant differences, at least, between the blue and gray” (as after England’s War of the Roses and the French Revolution), the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.
President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
A policeman rips the American flag away from 5-year-old Anthony Quinn, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Jackson, Mississippi; ca. 1965
In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.
Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”
There were five former living presidents in 1860: Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. They were #8, #10, #13, #14, and #15. Lincoln is #16.
Two die in 1862: Van Buren and Tyler, the former having been born in 1782 and the latter in 1790.
Van Buren was a one-term president who served 1837-1841. He did not support the annexation of Texas before or after his presidency, in large part due to the worry about territorial expansion and slavery. In the 1848 election, he headed a political splinter group known as the Free Soilers, who campaigned primarily on ending the spread of slavery into the West. The Free Soil party lost in 1848, and thus Van Buren stepped out of politics. By Lincoln’s election in 1860, he had written his memoirs and traveled the world. He supported Lincoln’s decision to resist secession with force. Considering his anti-annexation and Free Soil beliefs, one can argue that he believed the war was necessary to stop the spread of slavery out West. He hadn’t voted for Lincoln, but he didn’t believe that the sitting president (Buchanan) had the proper ideas in responding to secession. [Fun fact: he died just after Union forces captured New Orleans and as the Confederacy crossed the Potomac, causing Union troops to rush to D.C. to protect it.] Source: The Miller Center.
Tyler was also a one-term president. He had been the Vice President, but William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841 from pneumonia (and possibly an overdose of one of the medicines given to him). Tyler served from 1841-1845. He was a Whig when in the White House, but ultimately the party rejected him because he was so pro-state’s-rights, and he removed himself from politics. He remained reclusive in a Virginia plantation he named “Sherwood Forest” (because he’d been outlawed by his party; he thought himself like Robin Hood). When the Civil War seemed eminent, he re-appeared and headed the Virginia Peace Convention. This convention in 1861 after seven states had already seceded. It was intended to negotiate a way to avoid war. Tyler was chosen to represent Virginia, which was a slave-holding “swing state,” to speak to President Buchanan about the matter. Tyler had then suggested the Peace Convention. It did not work, because everyone disagreed on what parts of slavery to limit and where, and, even though they sent a proposed bill to Congress, the Senate voted against it. Afterward, Tyler was chosen again to represent Virginia – this time to their secession convention. He chose secession. He did not believe much violence would occur. He joined the Provisional Confederate Congress and was then elected to their House. He was on his way to the opening sessions of the Confederate Congress in early 1862 when he fell ill and collapsed. He lingered a week then died. Sources: John Tyler, Champion of the Old South and John Tyler: The Accidental President.
The other three all lived through the Civil War: Millard Fillmore dies in 1874, Franklin Pierce dies in 1869, and James Buchanan dies in 1868.
Fillmore was also a one-term president. He served from 1850-1853. Like Tyler, he had been Vice President, but his President (Zachary Taylor) had died in office (he died of digestive troubles; there’s a lot of myth and conspiracy about it). Unlike Van Buren, Fillmore did not oppose the spread of slavery into the West, and he supported the Compromise of 1850 (which may have defused tensions briefly, but it certainly upheld some of the nastier parts of slavery and encouraged others, such as the Fugitive Slave Act). When Fillmore left the presidency, he joined the Know Nothing, or American, Party because he refused to join the Republican party (which was the party of Lincoln and other anti-slavery folks). To be clear, the Know Nothing or American Party is in strong opposition to immigration and Catholicism; it’s pretty much their entire platform. You may remember this party from Gangs of New York – they were the men with the blue bands on their hats and waists. In 1856, he was the Know Nothing presidential candidate, and he garnered about 21% of the popular vote which put him in third. During the Civil War, Fillmore remained in New York, but did not support Lincoln, though he became a “staunch Unionist.” He led a home-guard militia of men over 45 who had not gone into combat (called the Union Continentals) to protect the area if the Confederates ever came that north. After the War, Fillmore supported Andrew Johnson’s lenient measures towards the South. Source: The White House and The Miller Center. Here’s an image of him as a Union Continental in the Civil War. You can read about his experiences in the Civil War as the Union Continental commander here in a free ebook.
Pierce was yet another one-term president. He served from 1853-1857. He is considered one of the worst presidents in American history. Why? Well, a number of reasons. The first is the less well known Ostend Manifesto, which basically was a document suggesting that the U.S. buy Cuba from Spain and, if Spain refused to sell, the U.S. should go to war. The second was and still is the most controversial: he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which further divided the country as they sought to figure out slavery in the West. His acquisition of southwestern land for railroads aggravated the situation even more, as settlers rushed out west and fell into conflict with each other almost immediately over the issue of slavery. These all turned much of America against Pierce while he was in office. When he left the presidency in 1857, he did what many other former presidents do and traveled abroad. He returned to America in 1859. Now realize that Pierce’s Secretary of War is Jefferson Davis, who would become the Confederacy’s President. Pierce had been persuaded by Davis several times when he was president. Now that the war itself was starting, he continued correspondence with Davis. Some of their letters were leaked during the war, which further alienated him from many. Throughout the Civil War, Pierce rejected Lincoln (they were in opposing parties, Pierce = Democrat, Lincoln = Republican), but he did support the Union. Still, he openly and repeatedly blamed the war on Lincoln, and, this combined with his letters to Davis, cost him dearly. Apparently, when he died, little was said about him or his passing. Sources: The White House, The Miller Center, and here’s one of his letters to Davis in 1861.
And finally, Buchanan, who was ALSO a one-term president, serving between 1857-1861. So much has been written about his views on the Civil War, it’s hard not to write a book about it. I’ll be short with him, because you can easily find information about his views. In summary, Buchanan was the president when the storm of the Civil War was brewing. If Pierce knew hell was on the horizon, then Buchanan was feeling heat, and Lincoln was the one who roasted. Buchanan did his best to deal with the upcoming conflict, but he probably aggravated matters. He was of the opinion that slavery was a state’s (and territory’s) issue, not federal, and they should decide if slavery would be present. He was the president during the Dred Scott decision, which said that slaves had no rights under the Constitution and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Buchanan had encouraged a Northern Supreme Court justice to join in opinion with the Southern ones, and thus, the Dred Scott decision came to be. He urged all American citizens to follow the decision in his Inaugural Address. Then, of course, there was Bleeding Kansas, a situation which he also aggravated by endorsing a proslavery constitution from the state. During the 1860 election, which he didn’t run in as he had promised, things fell apart.
As The Miller Center explains: “Buchanan, ever conciliatory, tried not to alienate anyone—either secessionist or unionist—but pleased no one. The outgoing President seemed at a loss to take any action against the South, which only emboldened the new Confederacy. All Southerners in his cabinet resigned. Secretary of State Lewis Cass quit too, disgusted with Buchanan’s inaction in the crisis. The President did little, fearful of provoking the South; yet he angered the South by refusing to relinquish Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. While his inaction averted war for the time being, it also enabled the new Confederate government to begin operations. Buchanan seemed eager to get out of the White House before the real disasters ensued.”
Buchanan encountered serious criticism after he left office. His portrait had to be removed from the White House because vandals kept damaging it, and posters appeared in numerous places with caricatures of him in a hangman’s noose with the caption “Judas” and sometimes “Traitor.” He tried to express his support for the Union cause, but many did not believe him (which makes sense, because there’s also evidence he supported the Confederacy). He published a book after the war blaming it on Republicans and abolitionists. Much like Tyler, he too became a recluse, rarely seeing anyone. He died in 1868 of respiratory failure, leaving behind a complicated legacy. Sources: The Miller Center
Right after the Civil War, there was something called the myth of the “Lost Cause.” It was pioneered by Edward A. Pollard, A Richmond journalist who wrote a history of the war in 1866, called (can you guess?) The Lost Cause. Basically, the book says that the Confederacy was a glorious agrarian state, and was defended by the best armies in American history. Pollard argues that the Armies of the Confederacy were more motivated, they fought better, they were led by better officers, and they were fighting for a noble and glorious cause (the defense of the antebellum south). Many historians, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, repeated this myth and rebuilt it into its modern, “acceptable” form. Basically, they repeated it so often, and so loudly, that the “Lost Cause” became accepted as truth. Men like Douglas Southall Freeman, and even Ken Burns, have been influenced by the “Lost Cause” mythos. More recent historians have moved away from the “Lost Cause” myth, but the myth is still incredibly powerful, especially in conservative and southern circles, where the myth is undergoing yet another reinvention.
Were the South’s generals really better? Well that depends.
Robert E. Lee was repeatedly able to produce battlefield successes; hes called the American Napoleon for good reason! But he also failed strategically, by wasting the South’s precious manpower in offensive battles that cost the Confederacy more than it gained.
And on the other hand, Ulysses Grant maximized the Union’s advantage, especially in the Overland Campaign, by using multiple armies to attack the Confederacy all along its border. This strategy prevented the Confederates from reinforcing one area after another, as they had done in 1863, and it also stretched the CSA’s manpower to its very limits. So, there, you could say that Grant better adapted his strategy to the unique strengths and weaknesses of the resources at his disposal. In addition, he waged a spectacular series of campaigns, first in Mississippi against Vicksburg, then later against Lee in Northern Virginia, which achieved remarkable battlefield success.
What held Grant back, and what held both the Confederacy and the Union back throughout the war, was the state of professionalism in the wartime armies. Many of the Generals who fought in the American Civil War, on both sides, really weren’t generals at all. Lee was a Colonel before the war, Grant was a washed up Captain, Winfield Scott Hancock was a quartermaster, Sherman was a Colonel at First Bull Run, etc. Nobody really had the command experience required to maneuver large forces either strategically, or tactically. Unlike in Europe, where generals learnt how to be generals for decades before a war put their training to the test, in America, these men had to learn on the job. What that meant was that those with natural talent, like Lee, Grant, and Sherman, floated to the top, while everyone else made a mockery of warfighting. And when a commander would be wounded, or worse promoted, their subordinates would have to come up to fill the gap, regardless of skill or training. The Armies needed officers, and it was too late to shove a new batch through West-Point to make a general staff.
Thats why we often look at the Union Army, especially the Army of the Potomac under Hooker and Burnside, and snicker. They look so dumb, and these men were give command of an army. But really, I think if you look at what was going on in the Western theatre, and if you look at the Corps commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant and Lee were the exceptions, not the rule. They were the cream that rose to the top. Even men like Longstreet and “Stonewall” Jackson had major problems with commanding their forces in the field, Longstreet did poorly without Lee’s supervision, and Jackson did so with it.
So I think thats the real issue with Generalship in the Civil War. The South was fortunate to have found Lee so early on, while Grant was a gem that had to be dug out of the rough.
Outside of the resurgence of ramming which came along with the development of armored ships, arguably beginning with the ramming of the Cumberland at the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, and continued throughout the riverine campaigns of the American Civil War before being picked up by foreign navies (see the Battle of Lissa (1866) and the Battle of Iquique (1879) there is very little mention of ramming as anything but a last-ditch tactic.
In my opinion, the more interesting thing about this question is why ramming fell out of favor. Why does the battle-tried bread-and-butter tactic of great navies from at least 535 BC until the Dark Ages1 simply vanish from use following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 (the last instance of galley warfare as we generally think of it) and remain more or less completely unused for the next 300 years?
To understand this, we need to look at the differences between galley warfare and the naval warfare of the Age of Sail. Galley warfare is what might be termed “consolidated” warfare- it almost always occurs between large fleets and has as its goal the destruction of the enemy fleet. In a fleet engagement such as this, there is a great deal more support available than in a smaller engagement, so the risk of accidental death due to ramming (i.e. sinking one’s own ship by ramming another) is perceptually reduced. The battles during this time also take place in fairly calm seas with which the participants are familiar; this also makes ramming ‘safer’ from a psychological perspective. From a technological perspective, there is no really effective anti-ship weaponry available (even ballistae are incredibly difficult to fire accurately at a moving target while pitching and rolling in the sea) at the time, so ramming has de facto standing as the most effective anti-ship tactic simply because it is pretty much the only anti-ship tactic.
Warfare in the Age of Sail is much different, it is primarily “distributed” warfare. Mostly small engagements over a wide area in all weathers, with various goals. Prize money becomes an increasingly important factor in this era, so the goal of engagements becomes less about destroying the enemy fleet en masse and more about capturing the individual ships that made up the enemy fleet in small chunks, to increase the size of one’s navy and inflate one’s pockets. In a tactical climate like this, ramming carries a very low cost-benefit. For one thing, ships in the Age of Sail were designed to carry lots and lots of guns, not a ram; this being the case, ramming is far more dangerous to both ships than it would have been in the days of galley warfare. If you ram someone and either ship sinks, you’ve lost out on a lot of potential prize money. The fact that battles often took place in varied locales and weathers also contributed to the deprecation of ramming, as sailing ships are bound to the wind whereas oared vessels are not. There exist a great many battle scenarios where actually positioning in such a way as to be able to ram the enemy would be more or less impossible- in these situations, guns provide an advantage, because they increase the area in which you are able to fight your enemy. Instead of having to be right up against them, you can be right behind them and chasing them while fighting. The increased use of guns also made ramming less desirable in that even in ideal ramming conditions, ramming would require you to run straight into the enemy’s fire, risking heavy damage to your ship and crew. Worse, at the end of the day, if you decided to pull alongside in the same conditions and exchange point-blank broadsides with the enemy instead of ramming, you’d probably do more damage than you would if you rammed them.
One other reason that navies in the Age of Sail did not ram might have to do with the development of European naval warfare. For a large portion of history, European navies fought naval battles by tying their ships together and fighting what amounted to a land battle at sea (see the Battle of Svolder (1000) and the Battle of Sluys (1340)). Because of this, tactics developed in a much different way in the European naval tradtition than the Medeterranean/Arabic tradition (i.e. the fo’c’sle or forecastle was basically an attempt to copy the effectiveness of a fortress on land for application at sea during battles of the lash-the-ships-together-and-thunderdome-it-out type, and ships themselves grew out of this to be mobile, long range fortresses capable of supporting populations (almost like little towns) rather than purely offensive weapons like galleys, which were short range, crewed by comparably few men, and pretty much disposable).
The reason you see the move back to ramming with the onset of the Civil War is because the tactical climate shifts back to “consolidated” warfare of a slightly different kind. In this case, combat doesn’t occur between large fleets because ironclads can just annihilate any wooden ship you throw at them- instead, it occurs between high value targets- the most important ships in the fleet. Just as in the days of galley warfare, you have the factors of localized combat, predictable weather/seas, and the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy’s ships- what is really interesting, though, is that once again we see that there is no effective anti-ship weapon. Ironclads are highly effective against wooden ships, but they can’t do anything to one another ( for the most part the cannonballs just bounce off the armor), and since this is the case, ramming once again becomes a viable tactic. Since being chewed up by the enemy’s guns on approach isn’t an issue anymore because of armor, and since due to the advent of steam wind position and current are trivial aspects of a typical engagement (i.e. captains no longer needed to wait for the wind to shift just right to be able to get into ramming position), it makes sense to start ramming once more, as it is a means of attack capable of piercing through armor and achieving the desired end result of destroying the enemy.