Capt. Robert I. Hill Diary

Captain Robert I. Hill

Diary -- August 1861 - 10 June 1862

Robert served in the Civil War and was Captain of Co. B 23rd Miss. Infantry. His diary from the war was printed in the Waco, Texas paper.


Father of Chalk Bluff Man Tells Vivid Story of History

Ninety-five years ago this week Capt. Robert Hill, father of Vic Hill of Chalk Bluff, fought with the Falkner Guards from Orizaba, Miss, in the battle of Fort Donelson, a disaster to the Confederate cause, in which Gen. Hiram Bronson Granberry commanded a regiment, General Granberry and Captain Hood were among those captured by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Captain Hill left a vivid story of the battle, written in the mud and blood and cold of the fields, and his son, Vic Hill has the note-book.

The story is told by Captain Hill from the standpoint of a company commander who was not informed of the general plan, knew nothing of how the battle was going elsewhere except what he would see and hear. It is what the men in action saw.

If the account of the battle is vivid, the record of events preceding it is even more interesting in many ways. It tells how the young Confederate recruits marched away from their home town, not to music but to prayers: how they were shunted around from pillar to post in typical army fashion, ill-fed, ill-housed, dying of sickness rather than enemy bullets. Captain Hill lists each death and its cause and badly trained and equipped. It tells how they finally got to Donelson, won their initial fights with the Federals and had, Captain Hill thinks, victory in their grasp, when the incompetency of their generals (not including Granberry) lost it for them. Captain Hill is bitter in his denunciation of the "high brass"

Then he recites his experiences in prison, where he was well-treated. He was finally exchanged in the summer of 1862, and fought out the rest of the war.

His son, Vic Hill, has visited the site of the prison on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, where a monument stands erected by the Grand Army of the Republic to their enemies.

Captain Hill’s colorful diary follows verbatim, not including the careful list of those killed in action (most of them non-commissioned officers) and of those who died of illness:

March Begins After Prayer and Goodbyes

The W. C Falkner Guards received marching orders from Gen. James B. Alcorn on the 24th day of August, 1861, and met on the morning of the 29th of August at Orizaba, Miss, and after a prayer from Rev. James L. McDaniel in behalf of the company, and parting with relatives and friends commenced their march at 9 o’clock from Orizaba for their place of rendezvous, Iuka, traveled 10 miles to the Union Church, there camped and preaching that night from Rev. John S. Laird.

On the 30th August, after parting with friends, we marched to Baldwin depot on Mobile and Ohio Ralroad, where we laid over until next day. Preaching at the church by Rev. C. G. Siddell on night of 30th.

Saturday August 31st, 10 o’clock a.m., left Baldwin, arrived at Corinth at 1 o’clock left Corinth at 3 o’clock, arrived at Iuka in camps at 8 o’clock p.m. on 31st August without accident of any kind.

Our position was assigned us in the Regiment there forming of the state troops, under Gen. Alcorn. The Regiment was organized by electing Thomas J. Davidson Colonel, Joseph M. Wells Lieutenant Colonel, John R. Duvall Major. The Regiment was known as the 2nd Mississippi, 1st Brigade of state troops commanded by Brig. Gen. J. L. Alcorn.

The destiny of the W. C. Falkner Guards was linked with the 2nd Regiment First Brigade state troops. We were kept at Iuka, Miss., for military instruction, until the 19th day of September 1861, on which day we were transferred to the Confederate States of America for the period of 12 months.

The number of our Regiment was changed from the 2nd to the 3rd Mississippi Regiment, the Regiment was then ordered to Bowling Green, Ky., there we remained one night and was then ordered to Russellville, Logan County, Ky., where it arrived about dark of the same day.

Ordered Off Cars, Without Any Food

We were ordered off the cars at 2 o’clock at night, without anything to eat. Next, morning we were ordered to draw and cook two days rations and be ready to march by 12 o’clock. We had drawn our arms, flint lock muskets, the day before at Bowling Green. So every man was busy in cooking and preparing for the march, all were ready at the appointed hour.

The command was then given to march; we were marched into the town of Russellville and drew the necessary ammunition and marched out at 3 o’clock on the road leading to Rochester, on Green River. We marched to Mud Creek that night, where each company and each regiment was ordered to encamp for the night on the ground they occupied.

We were very much fatigued and, lay down and sleeped, without any covering whatever. Next morning by daylight we were ordered forward, having eat up all our rations.

This morning we marched about 15 miles to where Col. Nelms Cavalry Regiment was encamped, arrived there about 3 o’clock without anything to eat, there we waited for the commissary wagons to arrive, which was about night.

March of 20 Miles Over Rough Terrain

We drew rations, but no cooking utensils, consequently had to make the best shift we could: Some used boards, others pieces of bark to make up their dough on. We adopted quite novel methods of cooking our bread, some using board, the majority use round sticks, wrapping the dough around the stick, in which condition it was held to the firs, and cooked.

We were ordered next morning to cook up two days’ rations. By the time we got our dough made up, we received orders to march in 15 minutes, we were compelled to leave all our rations and march without anything to eat.

We marched on this day about 20 miles, to Rochester over a very rough and broken country: houses on the roads generally closed and people gone. We expected to meet the Federals at that place, but upon our arrival we found no enemy.

We here camped with General Buckner’s forces. Our Regiment was camped in an old field, had for supper roasting ears, for breakfast same, with beef without salt.

We were ordered to march toward Greenville, cut off Muhlenberg county. Marched 15 miles and encamped for the night.

Next morning, ordered to march for Greenville. There we were met with the sight for the first time of the old Federal flag, since we left home. Some of the cavalry fired upon the flags and cut them up very much.

We marched out of this town three miles and encamped on the road leading to Hopkinsville, Ky. Our men were nearly famished for something to eat. We were ordered forward next morning, and had a long and hard day’s march and encamped in a creek bottom, with beef without bread for supper and breakfast, ordered early next morning for Hopkinsville.

At 2 o’clock of this day our cavalry advance was fired upon and two of them killed by some of the prowling Federal union men. Our cavalry succeeded in killing two or three of them. All through this country the Federal Government had distributed arms, some of which we succeeded in securing a good many.

We camped with two miles of Hopkinsville tonight. Next morning we were moved forward to the Fair Ground and there encamped, with the First Mississippi Regiment which had accompanied us all through our marches under command of Brig. Gen. J. L. Alcorn.

Camp Diseases Set In with All Horrors

There never had been a march that the men suffered more from the marches of this brigade.

Here at Hopkinsville the camp diseases set upon us with all their horrors of sickness, deaths, Measles, mumps and pneumonia, and typhoid fever seem to be the prevailing diseases that afflicted our men. The W. C. Falkner Guards, our Co. B as the company was designated in the Regiment, lost by sickness here at this camp nine men and two at Clarksville, making altogether 11 men.

Major John R. Duvall resigned and William C. Rogers was elected major of the 3rd Mississippi Regiment to fill the vacancy. We remain from the ____ to the _____February 1862, when we were ordered to march to Clarksville on the morning of the ___February.

We struck our line of march through mud and water, and encamped 14 miles at Longview from Hopkinsville, next morning continued our march through rain and snow and arrived at Clarksville about 3 o’clock, there encamped all night, when we were ordered next day to Fort Donelson.

We put our camp equipment and baggage upon board of the boat R. B. Runion and left Sunday evening for Fort Donelson, at which place we arrived about 11 o’clock same night, at town of Dover, one mile above the Fort, and carried all our equipage and baggage upon the hill 200 years from the river, where we made fires of fence rails, and so passed the night.

Early in the morning half the Regiment under Col. I. M. Wells received orders to prepare, the encamping ground about one mile from the river, which was completed and the Regiment moved out on the same evening, having to pack the larger portion of their baggage out on their backs. This was on Monday Febry, 19th

After More Marching, A good Night’s Rest

Tuesday February 11th 1862. This day was occupied in putting up tents and arranging our encampment and cutting down the timber in front of the encampment, which was accomplished, then ordered to cut down the timber on the right of the camp, which was progressing on Tuesday evening when we stop.

Orders were then given to prepare new encampment about 1/3 mile to the rear, on the black jack ridge, this was late in the evening. We merely got the encampment laid off, marched back to the first encampment, and got the first good night’s rest since we left Hopkinsville.

Early on Tuesday morning Captain Moses McCarley’s company was thrown out as pickets a half mile in front of the first camp and there remained for 24 hours, and in the meantime our cavalry had skirmishing with enemy every evening from Sunday, with more or less success.

Wednesday Feb. 12, 1862. Early this morning the main body of the regiment were engaged in getting the new camping ground ready, and commenced moving over their baggage, and by the assistance of our baggage wagons who had arrived this morning we were enabled to get moved back by 3 o’clock. But before we had time to pitch or get the first tent up, heavy firing commenced rather to the right of our front. Our regiment was ordered under arms and into line and ready to march wherever ordered.

Soldier Comments On Strange Tactics

Firing having ceased we were ordered to cut down the timber in front of us, and had been engaged some time at the work when the firing recommenced, when we were ordered into line again.

When the firing ceased and our cavalry returned to camp, picks, shovels, spades, and axes were now brought forward and we were ordered to cut rifle pits rather under the brow of the hill. This was near sundown.

Captain McCarley’s company was relieved this morning by Captain Alcorn’s company, First Mississippi regiment, who occupied their place on picket duty.

McCarley’s company was thrown out this evening to protect the timber cutters, when the enemy attacked Captain Alcorn’s company on picket duty and drove them in, also Forrest’s cavalry who was out. Captain McCarley’s company was ordered back into time when this firing took place. This was near sundown.

Now came the cutting of the rifle pits, which was commenced about half an hour before sundown. The men in the meantime got something to eat as best they could.

We continued to work until about one hour after dark, when orders were received to detail four men from each company under Captain Saunders who was to act as guard to 40 men whom we detailed to cut down the remainder of the timber in front.

The guard marched out to the duty assigned them and the men to cut timber were being paraded, when the enemy delivered a heavy fire on the picket company about 200 yards in front of our lines. Our pickets returned the fire and fell back to the lines.

This fire of the enemy killed one of our packets Mr. Bright in McCarley’s company, also killed one man in the lines of Captain Saunders’ company, and wounding several in other companies.

Here I will remark that through some strange oversight no pickets were thrown out after our pickets had been driven in the early part of the afternoon. It is very strange that such was the case, but so it was, and the enemy were suffered to bring their lines in 300 yards of us without molestation.

During the evening we could see the enemy through our first camping ground. During the night the enemy closed their lines entirely around us.

Rifle Pits Withstand Terrific Cannonading

The sound of the pick and shovel was heard throughout the night, and faithfully did our brave boys work. Both officers and men worked with untiring energy, the generals and field officers passed along and encouraged the men in their work. Wednesday night was well spent, as the sequel will show.

Thursday, Feb. 13, 1862. By this morning we had our rifle pits in such state of forwardness toward completion that they afforded the necessary protection, for soon, they, the work of one night, were to withstand the most sublime and terrific cannonading that has ever occurred in the history of this country, which commenced about 8 o’clock in the morning, raining shells, round shot, grape, and canister as thick as hail, which came whistling, scissing, bursting, tearing, throwing earth and gravel, covering us with dirt and pieces of shell.

Our batteries placed in our rear returned the fire with effect but was for a time or two silenced for the time being by the tremengious fire of the enemy’s battery. The section placed behind us commanded by Lt. Stinson dismounted one of the enemy’s guns.

The cannonading of the enemy did us very little damage, they succeeded in killing and wounding some few of our men. Some hairbreadth escapes occurred in our regiment.

The cannonading, ceased about 12 or 1 o’clock then set up the sharp shooting of the enemy. With their long range guns they shot quite, close and succeeded in killing and wounding some few of our men, none in our regiment, with exception of Captain Moses McCarly, who was shot through the hand, and so passed Thursday until night.

Severe Sufferings In Mud, Sleet, Snow

Soon after dark it commenced raining a cold rain, which later in the night turned into sleet and snow. Here our most severe suffering set in, men compelled to stay in mud and water from four to six inches deep, it sheeting, raining, and snowing, without fires, until daylight, without anything to eat.

Friday, Feb. 14, 1862. Through last night there was desultory firing kept up between our lines and the enemy’s. This morning the sharpshooters on both sides commenced their firing again. I have here to state what I should have stated in Thursday’s record: on Thursday evening a hard battle occurred on the right of our lines near the fort between the enemy, and continued on Friday morning, the result of the enemy was repulsed with heavy loss.

On this day, Friday, occurred the fight between the fort and the gunboat fleet of the enemy, which for sublimity, grandeur, and magnitude has never been surpassed on this continent, and the tremengious issues that hung upon the result of that awfully sublime cannonading was enough to make us tremble with fear for the result. But enemy was most signally defeated in the contest. Several of his gunboats were disabled and in a sinking condition. Our loss at the fort was quite small.

Before the battle took place between the fort and the gunboats we were drawn out in battle array, but owing to the lateness in the day we were ordered back to our pits, to pass another terrible night in mud and water

The gunboat fight commenced about 2 o’clock of the day, the battle lasted two hours as said before. Now-commence Friday night. We built up some few fires, it commenced snowing and sleeting again tonight. Our men were nearly starven and frozen dead for sleep, having passed several night and days without any rest whatever.

Great Battle Comes on Saturday, Feb, 15

Saturday Feb. 15, 1862. At daylight this morning we were ordered from our ditches into battle array, and now came the most tremengious battle for numbers engaged that has thus far been fought in this great war.

We had marshalled for the fight this morning, all told, about 5,000 men. With this force we attacked the enemy’s right wing about sun-up. Then there was a terrific fire of small arms until about 12 or 1 o’clock.

I shall here follow the Third Mississippi Regiment, the part they took in the great battle.

We were ordered forward a little after daylight under the command of Col. Joseph M. Wells. We advanced but 200 yards from where we first formed until we were under heavy fire.

Incessant Sheet of Fire Upon Enemy

We were ordered to take up line of battle to the left of the Virginia regiment alongside of a fence. Here we remained some ten minutes, balls cutting the fence rails and wounding some of our men.

Orders was then given to advance through the open field, which we did in splendid order, under a heavy fire, from the enemy.

Here our first fire commenced upon the enemy. We poured upon them an incessant sheet of fire. Advancing firing was our orders.

The enemy was under the covering of the thick woods. We drove them back with heavy loss, and soon got possession of the woods. We continued to advance, driving the enemy before us for near a mile, right through their encampments.

The ground was very broken that we had passed over. Here they made a tremendious stand to save two pieces of artillery that they had attempted to get into play upon us, but our fire was terrible, and we drove them back and took some 30 or 40 prisoners and strewed the ground with their dead and wounded.

We had succeeded in driving the enemy’s whole line back in confusion, even some fled to Fort Henry. The loss of the Third Mississippi regiment was quite light in this terrible battle. This was due to the broken condition of the ground and the protection of the woods. The enemy fired too high is another cause that our loss was so light, thanks to a kind Providence that such was our good fortune.

We had seven men killed and about 20 wounded. Two of the seven was men that fell into the regiment, that was killed while with us.

After Sharp Victory, A Sudden Surrender

Our regiment went through the battle in good order, and our boys as brave as lions. It was our fortune to be placed in combat against the 11th and 8th Illinois regiment and we covered the ground with their dead and wounded.

I never wish to behold such sights as I passed over that day again men in every conceivable position you can imagine.

The enemy’s fire ranged by the marks of the shot upon the trees and bushes from breast height to eight feet, our fire ranged from half leg to above the head in height. We suppose they generally overshot our men with their long range guns.

This portion of the army that attacked the enemy on their right wing done tremengious fighting. Some of the regiments in our army suffered much more seriously than ours. That was owing to the fact that portion of the field was open and level.

We drove back four times our number and had them completely whipped, and according to the understanding among the generals this was designed to cut our way out, which we most effectively accomplished, and but for the vain-glorious and no-general Pillow could have marched off with all ease.

A Most Terrible Night for soldiers

But he thought we had completely whipped and demoralized an army of 75,000 men, which they say is the number they had.

It is true we had given their right wing a most terrible thrashing.

He ordered us back to the ditches and by night the enemy had reoccupied their same position.

That night, a most terrible night, was passed by us until 2 o’clock, when we were ordered out of the trenches to the same field, as we supposed, to fight another battle, There we remained until daylight, without fires, men freezing

Orders then came for us to march back to the ditches, as we thought, but our sight was greeted with a most humiliating sight, a white flag.

It was said it was an armistice to bury our dead and take care of our wounded, but such was not the case. It was soon known that we was shamefully surrendered by Pillow and Floyd to the enemy.

Men Knew Nothing Of Surrender Plan

Then men who had never shed tears were seen to shed them freely at the thoughts that after a most glorious victory the day before to be thus surrendered by men who knew not their business, and incapable of commanding an army.

None of the company officers or men knew anything of their being surrendered until they were commanded to stack arms. Then came a scene that was almost indescribable, some cursing, some crying, some wanting to go out at all hazards. I never wish to pass through such scenes again.

This was on Sunday morning. Feb. 16, 1862, that the above scenes took place. Our enemies seem to be very honorable and friendly, mixing with our men and talking over the incidents of the battle with great glee. They said we gave them thunder and lightening on Saturday but, they came out finally the victor.

They place guards to guard our baggage from their pilfers, which was very kind of them. They seem to have no personal enmity at us. They said that they hoped that they would not have such fighting again. We told them that they would have a hard time down in the Land of Dixie.

Monday evening, Feb 17, 1862. We were marched down to the river and put upon board steamer Neptune with exception of two companies who were put upon another boat Tuesday morning, Feb. 18.

We left for the Land of Lincoln. We arrived at Cairo, Ill, same night.

On the evening of the 19th we were put upon board of the cars for Chicago, Ill. I left out of my company three men who were to sick to go with us. They were R. C. Orr, W. A. Stokes, and P. M. Calicut, three noble - hearted young men. They were sent to St. Louis, Mo., and there put into the hospital, where P. M. Calicut and R. C. Orr died and W. A. Stokes was sent to Camp Butler, Springfield, Mo.

Kind Treatment Given Men as Prisoners

The train of cars started with us about dark for Chicago. We saw a good deal of the state of Illinois on the 20th February. Great crowds of People collected at the depots as we passed to get a sight of the seseahers. We arrived on the morning of the 21st February at daylight in Chicago. We were then marched through the streets of the city about four miles out to Camp Douglas, where we were put in good quarters.

Here the officers were separated from the men. We were treated very kind by the people of Chicago. Large numbers of the ladies of the city visited us and seemed to greatly delight in talking with us and treated us very kind and seemed to sympathize with us very much.

This was quite different from what we expected. We thought that they would be very much enraged against us from the fact that at the battle of Fort Donelson we killed 1,800 of the troops of Illinois, but such was not the case. In fact the troops of Illinois seem to be proud of the terrible battle that we gave them.

We were kept here for a few days, and then sent to Camp Chase prison, Columbus, Ohio, a perfect mud hole. Here many of us were taken sick.

Our men were left at Chicago. We were kept at Camp Chase about 15th April, when we were sent to Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio, an excellent place. Here the health Has been quite good up to this time. June 10th 1862.

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