"We Came to a Small Log House Where Our Wounded Had Been Carried"

Riley M. Hoskinson—a provisions master in the Union army—wrote to his wife on October 27, 1863, describing a Civil War field hospital and how he had been briefly captured by the Confederates near Chattanooga, Tennessee. His son, Stuart, also served with him. This excerpt follows original spelling. 

Riley M. Hoskinson letter to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville Illinois, Oct. 27, 1863 

Just at half past ten O’clock orders come for our Brigade to rush to the combat, away they go on double quick down the hill and into the woods, out of sight, which is the last I saw of the Regiment, or ever will of many of them, "till Heaven's last thunder shakes the world below." Mine & Stuart's place was to stay on the point of the hill above the road and overlooking the contest till needed to assist the surgeons. In a few moments more the combat deepened into (if possible) tenfold terrific proportions. Thus it raged and thus we stood about 10 steps behind of our batteries till about half past one o'clock. The cannon shots were so rapid as to be (most of the time) too frequent to count, and the musquetry resembled the crackling of a handful of salt thrown into the fire, add to this the constant screaming of officers and men, various bayonette charges. Men marching at doublequick in all directions trying to get better positions. Cannons & caissons being hauled at full gallop in every conceivable direction, couriers going at the topmost speed of their best horses. Then add the fearful wounds, bruises, cuts, slashes, groans & cries, bloodshed & death in all its forms, then imagine as much more as you can and then you will fall far short of a description of this Awful contest. I forgot to be afraid, and became so vengeful as to pray God that the whole southern Confederacy might be annihilated, for causing so much needless suffering and death. Our doctors never made their appearance so we of course stood idle spectators, at last up came a poor fellow that had been struck on his left thigh by a piece of shell, and about half size of my hand of flesh entirely carried away. I took his handkerchief and bound it up to staunch the blood, in a few moments more many wounded passed by us and one a tall handsome young man, the blood streaming from his mouth, Stuart asked him if he were wounded in the mouth, he simply pointed to his left side, where his clothes were all tattered by a stroke from a piece of shell. About this time I noticed our men were falling back out of the woods and we were about being surrounded, so Stuart & I went still higher up the hill, but here also we were chased, and we then went back into a pine woods behind us and sat down to eat a bite and rest. While thus engaged two big shells came over us singing Boo-o-o-o-o-o, as they went, another shot cut off a limb from a tree close in front of us. 3 o'clock afternoon the storm of battle has somewhat abated, and Stuart & I now start forward to hunt for our Regiment. Got on some half way, and were met by an officer who yelled to us not to dare go on the battlefield as our men had fallen back toward Chattanooga and the rebels had full possession of the field. We went on however, till in sight of where we first stood, when bang went a rifle and a ball whizzed close past our heads. We now began to think some little about personal safety, and turned in the direction the Officer had told us to go. We had only gotten about half a mile till we came to a small log house where our wounded had been carried till the floor was literally covered with bleeding, dying men. It looked much like a slaughter house, and the two women who lived there scared almost to death, so much so as to be of no use at all. Just at this moment three of our ambulances came along, so Stuart and I helped load them with wounded, & concluded to go back to the Hospital and help take care of them and hunt the Regiment in the morning. As we went to the Hospital, we noticed in some woods at about a quarter of a mile distant from the road, several Secesh cavalry skulking in the timber. As soon as we came opposite them they would step out and shoot, then dodge back and hide, then come out and shoot again, this was repeated several times, as much as twenty or more, when a cavalry man of our own galloped up to us and said "don't you know these fellows are shooting at you: Get out of the way, as rapidly as you can." I replied, if they are shooting at us I would not be afraid to bare my breast and let them shoot at it all the afternoon if they could do no better than they had been doing. Just at that moment some of them who had a long ranged gun, let slip and the ball said, "sleo, o,o,o" as it passed in a few feet of my head. We now went a little faster, and were soon out of their range. [Pencil markings and corrections made later by Hoskinson begin to appear in the following passages of the letter.] Reached the Hospital in safety but had only time to unload our wounded when the whole premises, six Hospitals in number, were surrounded by two Brigades of Wheeler's Cavalry and a Regiment of Infantry, yelling at the top of their voices as if Hell had suddenly erupted itself of all its contents. In a few moments, seeing we made no resistance, a tall fine-looking Texan rode up and told us we were all Prisoners of War. 



Hoskinson, Riley M. Riley M. Hoskinson letter to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville Illinois, Oct. 27, 1863. Letter. From University Libraries, University of Washington, Correspondence of Riley Hoskinson to his wife, Martha Hoskinson of Rushville, Illinois, 1863 (accessed October 14, 2022).