This letter was written by William Andrew Garner (1833-1917) in 1897, formerly of Co. C, 25th Arkansas Infantry. He wrote the letter to the son of his former captain who was killed at the Battle of Stones river on 31 December 1862. The letter is a good synopsis of the movements of the 25th Arkansas and of the death of Capt. John D. Thomas and the wounding of the author at Stones river.
June 18, 1897
Mr. J. W. Thomas
I am just in receipt of a letter from Judge J. S. Thomas including yours of 15th inst. making inquiries about the Company & Regiment to which your brave and gallant soldier father belonged &c., and in as much as I am about the only man living—save one or two of whom I have lost sight—that can give a complete history of your father from the time he entered the army until his death, I feel that you would appreciate a personal letter from me over my own signature, and I have thus written your Uncle Jim.
Our company was formed at Hickory Plain about the 22nd of February 1862, A. M. Reinhardt Captain, Dr. W. L. Moore 1st Lieut., your father 2nd Lieut. We were mustered into service March 13th 1862 at Jacksonport, Arkansas, by Major Haskell of Columbia, S. C., who was still living a short time since at Columbia.
From Jacksonport we moved to Pocahontas, Arkansas, & with several other companies were in drill camp under Capt. Turnbull, afterwards Colonel of the regiment. Some time about the first of April we took boat sent to Memphis where we encamped several days in the mud, a few yards east of the Memphis & C. Depot on the side of the railroad.
Shortly after we went to Corinth and went into camp just south of the railroad about 2 miles west of town; and then joined the 25th Arkansas Regiment—ours being Co. C (color company). Rev. B. G. Johnson was Colonel but a few days [when] a general order, ordering reorganization of all companies and regiments [was received]. Our regiment reorganized the evening before the regular battle of Farmington, and during the excitement of heavy picket firing in front of us near Farmington, through rascality & trickery, Turnbull was made our Colonel.
Your father was elected Captain of Co. C. He appointed me Orderly Sergt. of the company. We were warm personal friends and messed together. The morning after the battle, I was so very sick I was sent to the hospital at Grenada, Mississippi, where I was dangerously sick for several weeks. In the meantime our troops had evacuated Corinth and I returned to them at Tupelo where I found your father and his negro Joe, both dangerously sick. I and our regimental surgeon went to Gen. Van Dorn and got orders for an ambulance and driver. I finally succeeded in getting a family to take them in after driving about 9 miles east of Tupelo near Richmond. I got a doctor for them [but] Joe died that night. We went via Mobile and Atlanta to Chattanooga & your Father returned to us either at Chattanooga or Louden and took command of the company.
We then went to Knoxville & from thence via Rogers Gap 10 miles to Cumberland Gap in Kentucky, surprised and captured a little garrison at Barbourville, then to Cumberland Ford, the last six days of which time we lived entirely on green corn. We then moved out across Big Hill Mountain with the rest of Kirby Smith’s troops and fought the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky [on] August 31st (Sunday). From thence to Lexington, Cynthiana, Georgetown, and on to Covington just opposite Cincinnati where we lay 3 days scaring the Yankee army which numbered 4 to our 1 nearly to death. Thence we fell back to Lexington, Mt. Sterling, Frankfort, & Salviss, thence to Lawrenceburg where our corps engaged several hundred Yankees.
The day Bragg’s Corps fought the Battle of Perryville, we rejoined Bragg at Harrodsburg where we took the line of retreat out of Kentucky fighting and skirmishing from the rear every day till October 25th. Our command camped at Cumberland in the heaviest and severest snow storm I ever witnessed. Then to Louden, Chattanooga, and across the mountain where we camped at Manchester some time in December, in another snowstorm. That evening while crossing the mountains, Capt. Thomas pointed out Winchester to our right & told me all about the happy school days he had spent there.
During the Christmas holidays we were in camp near Reidyville 11 miles from Murfreesboro & on Sunday night before the great battle, the long roll beat at 10 o’clock and notwithstanding a cold drenching rain was falling, we marched to Murfreesboro that morning through the mud and slush, going into ½ mile east of town upon the Lebanon Pike. On the evening of December 30th, there was a little fighting over to the northwest of town across Stone river. Our command was ordered to reinforce the left wing that evening, which we did by breaking the ice & wading Stone river. Several of our men were wounded that evening & night by the Yankee bombshells while lying in line upon the frozen ground without fires.
The next morning just at daylight, we charged a Yankee battery and captured it. Rev. Hammond, captain of a company from Benton just to the left of our company, was killed in the charge. A few minutes after, while pursuing the fleeing Federals, just back of a farmhouse near a clay hole & I think an old brick yard—say some ½ or 2 miles northwest of town, your father remarked to me as I dropped on my knees to reload, “Come ahead old fellow, we are driving them.” When I loaded and came up, our command was reforming in great confusion. I then learned that the Captain had been killed in a few feet of where he had spoken to me. George Powell had taken his saber in order to save it for your brother Sam as your father had requested the night before. It seems that he had a presentiment that he would be killed. Just before he made the fatal charge, he remarked, “Garner, I don’t know how it is with you, but I have just had a strange dream about my wife and children & I feel that this is my last fight.” He had not more than finished the remark when the order came, “Forward march, charge bayonets.” I being Orderly Sergeant, my position was at the head of the company; he being the commander at my right.
Late that evening December 31st, in the last charge where we had turned the Federal right wing, all of a sudden we in 10 or 15 feet of their reinforcements massed in the ditch of the Franklin Pike. George Powell & hundreds of others were killed there. It was our time to run. I was wounded and ordered to the rear, passed by and examined Capt. Thomas who was lying cold and stiff in a puddle of his own frozen blood; the ball entering one side of the neck, coming out at the other; severing the arteries. When I reached the point from which I started that morning, I found about 50 men slightly wounded around a camp fire. All night long the ambulance and litter bearer were bearing the wounded by to the field hospital near us in the Old MuCullough farm house. I got one of the drivers who belonged to our regiment to bring Capt. Thomas’ corpse back to our camp fire. The next day, January 1st 1863, not being able to procure a coffin or even plank for a box of any kind, I and Yon Stanly and someone else of our company & John Lockey of Capt. Hammond’s company—who afterwards lost an arm and is now living in Grantlee—procured an ambulance, took your father and Capt. Hammond a short distance to the McCullough family graveyard, & the boys, though all slightly wounded, dug a deep wide grave in the southeast corner of the graveyard, amidst the Walnut & Locust trees where in which placed two as gallant Christian soldiers as ever led a charge or was ever wrapped in a soldier’s blanket. I, not being able to walk, sat by a fire & carved with my knife each ones names on hard, seasoned pieces of oak plank & placed them at their respective heads. After the graves had been filled trusting to meet in a better, brighter world after the roll of the skies, which at best will be but a few short fleeting years.
I have been thus minute and tedious in this communication that in the future travels can say, “My Father marched along here and fought here,” & should you ever go to Murfreesboro, you can go to the McCullough graveyard and stand over his sacred dust. I think there was a small persimmon or mulberry tree near the heart of the grave. Another reason for this long letter, I know you never looked upon your Father’s manly form, you having been born after he entered the army.
Before closing, allow me to ask what has become of your Mother, Mattie & Sam?
The friend of your Father & his children — W. A. Garner
P. S. The 25th Regiment belonged to Churchill’s [actually McNair’s] Brigade, McCown’s Division at the time your Father was killed. It was McNair’s Brigade, Huffstedler commanding the regiment. He was killed afterwards at Resaca, Georgia. At the final surrender at Greensboro, North Carolina, it was Gen. D. H. Reynold’s Brigade, Wathal’s Division/